Graduation: A Light in the Darkness
Right now, many people are getting ready to celebrate the holidays and the coming new year – a welcome change and hopeful new start. At Kent State University at Stark, more than 140 students are preparing to graduate with their bachelor’s degrees – providing them with the keys to a brighter tomorrow.
One of those students is psychology senior Williemina Harmon. She knows education changes lives.
Harmon, a 2016 McKinley Senior High School graduate, was determined to go to Kent State Stark at a young age. Her mother was a Kent State Stark alumna and her father a Malone University alumnus. Her parents’ love story began on the Stark Campus, and her older sister, Kimberly, also attended Kent State Stark.
“College was always put in a place of importance in my family,” said Harmon. “A good education was the benchmark to security and success.”
She originally wanted to become a nurse, like her mom, but after a few introductory courses, she realized it wasn’t the path for her. Harmon became passionate about psychology after taking several Kent Core classes on the topic. One day, she hopes to practice art therapy.
Harmon has become a very familiar face on campus these past four years. She held various positions in Student Services as a student worker, helped with campus tours and campus events as a Campus Ambassador. She also worked as a mentor in the Bulldog Flash Academic Institute, now the Rising Scholars Program, and was part of the Black Student Union.
“I really loved working on campus… Each one (job) allowed me to interact with students. For me, that was exciting,” she said. “Not only just interacting with students, but influencing their college experience for the better… As a Campus Ambassador, I got to meet many people, including Featured Speaker Mary Frances Berry, which was beyond cool.”
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows, though.
“I have not had the easiest time during my college career,” Harmon acknowledged. “I struggled with fundamental challenges I think every student my age does: choosing a career, finding independence, fostering courage and making the best choices for myself. I have grown a lot from the 18-year-old I was when I entered college.”
On top of that, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic turned her last two semesters upside down.
“This year has been the hardest for sure. With COVID-19, everyone has had to make some extreme adjustments,” she said. “I adapted like everyone else. It was my final semester, and nothing was going to stand in the way we me getting my degree.”
But the pandemic wasn’t the only hardship Harmon faced. In fact, there was a struggle much darker, much closer to home.
“A lot happened in my life before COVID-19 hit. My mother had a stroke. It shook me to my core,” she explained. “I was still going to classes and managing my education through it all. I think the only reason I was able to maintain was because my mom raised me to give my everything.”
So, along with her student and student worker hats, she added caregiver to the mix. It’s no wonder, the name Williemina means “willing to protect.”
And then the unthinkable happened.
“It got even harder when my mom passed before she could fully recover.”
Harmon praised her sister Kimberly for helping her through.
“She had my back and kept me grounded. I kept up with my schooling, sure in my decision to finish my degree no matter what.
“I think it is what my mom would have wanted.”
For Harmon, the milestone of graduating college means more this year than any other.
“This achievement will be a positive thing in a year of many negative experiences,” she said. “To me, it feels like finishing a marathon, and you crossed the finish line, but instead of just running that marathon, you had a 100 lb. weight put on your back in the last 10 miles.”
And Harmon will tell you that she is not done running.
“I plan to get my master’s degree,” she said proudly. “And see the world. And live a fulfilled life. And help many people.”
Harmon has a contagious passion for people and community, especially those who are marginalized, and that will be a driving force in her future endeavors.
“For me, community is all about being able to thrive in a world that is accepting of everyone – no matter their race, age, gender and/or sexuality,” she said. “Diversity is so important and so is love. One of my dreams and missions in life is to make the world a better and more accepting and diverse place, especially for minorities who are often misunderstood, criminalized or disliked for being who they are.”
And that’s where her psychology degree will come into play.
“I want to use my degree and work as a counselor and help people find their voices and their strength. I want to be a mouthpiece for justice, kindness and love. And, I look forward to those interactions and meeting people from all over the world and learning from them,” she said. "That is something I learned at Kent, that being in an environment that allows you to meet so many different people from different walks of life teaches you so much about human life and how to be a more empathetic and open-minded person.”
And it sounds to us like Harmon may be following in Civil Rights activist Mary Frances Berry’s footsteps, too. Because as Berry has said:
“The time when you need to do something is when people are saying it can’t be done.”