Convocation Speaker Taneisha Mings reflects on her first-generation journey at Worcester State

September 11, 2023
By: Worcester State University News

Alumna Taneisha Mings ’13, M.Ed., delivered the keynote address at Worcester State’s fall 2023 Convocation on September 5. She is a NextGen Careers Counselor for the Mass Rehabilitation Commission with experience in social justice advocacy and organizing. She is a compassionate advocate for reproductive freedom, aging adults, and people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Mings joined the Worcester State Alumni Advisory Board in spring 2023. She also serves on the board of Queen’s Narrative, a nonprofit organization in Springfield, Mass., that supports the empowerment of women and girls through community programming.

Here are her remarks:

Good morning, incoming class of 2023. Thank you, President Maloney, Dr. Wims, and members of the Academic Ceremonies Committee team for selecting me to be this year’s alumni speaker. My name is Taneisha Mings, and I feel so honored to stand before you all and share a little about my experience at Worcester State. This year is very special as it marks 10 years since I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in communications in 2013. I went on to later obtain a master’s degree in higher education administration from Springfield College in 2018.

Woman stands at podium in front of crowd

Alumna Taneisha Mings delivered the Convocation keynote address to nearly 1,200 incoming students on Sept. 5, 2023.

Worcester State helped shape my identity not only as an aspiring professional but as a young woman coming into her own. Much like many of you, I came to campus with many hopes and aspirations. As a first-generation student, hailing originally from the beautiful island of Barbados, attending college was monumental. It signified a new beginning, an opportunity to achieve more than my parents did. At the time, my father worked overnight shifts as a security guard and my mother was a head cook at a nursing home. My parents were faith-based and always aimed to instill the notion that, although life can be unfair, I must have a fighter spirit throughout it all. Even with this worldly knowledge, my parents struggled to understand the college application process and could not be as supportive as they wanted to be. As immigrants, they were not privy to available resources and lacked the tools needed to navigate the process, especially when it came to requesting financial aid. I was the first person in my family to experience the world of higher education, and in many instances I was both the teacher and the student, helping my parents each step of the way. The terrain was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Not to mention, I had younger siblings who, as toddlers, looked up to me with so much admiration and hope in their eyes. I felt a lot of pressure as I paved the way. I knew I couldn’t let them down. 

Worcester State was the only school I toured, and I fell in love with the small school feel and the beautiful campus. I felt like I had my entire life ahead of me, and I was eager to start a new chapter of my life as a Lancer. Despite all the possibilities, self-doubt and uncertainty crept in once I moved onto campus. I struggled managing family obligations back home as the eldest child. I felt unprepared navigating a new environment, and adjusting to the coursework was overwhelming and stressful to say the least. I had a work-study job on campus and worked part-time as a dietary aid at the Fairlawn Rehab Hospital right down the street to offset financial costs of living on campus. As I tried to define my purpose during my first year, I often wondered if college was the right place for me. Would my fighter spirit see me through?

By the spring semester, I thought it would be best to step out of my comfort zone and get involved. By then, I had attended several on-campus events like game nights, motivational and networking events, basically any opportunity where I could get a free t-shirt, but I knew I wanted to do more. I saw an opportunity to apply for a position as an orientation leader, and I went for it. Student leadership allowed me to be vulnerable and explore parts of myself that made me unique. I built important skills like conflict management, working as a team, and expanded my cultural awareness and sensitivity. I fostered new relationships and in turn, made lifelong friends and established trust amongst staff like Kristie McNamara, Laurie Murphy, Josh Katz, and many others who supported me along the way. I even felt more comfortable accessing other offices on campus like Career and Counseling Services. Those connections gave me hope and reaffirmed that I was exactly where I needed to be. I would go on to be an orientation leader for two years as well as a resident assistant my senior year. 

Worcester State provided countless other opportunities that crafted my growth during my time here and shaped the start of my professional journey. My introduction to the social services profession was not preconceived, but instead a gradual unearthing of my ability to connect with others and serve them respectfully. Some of my favorite classes were sociology courses I took to fulfill my requirements to graduate, though I never had the courage to switch majors. As an ambitious college senior, I began working with individuals with developmental and physical disabilities at Seven Hills Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to “encourage the empowerment of people with significant challenges so that each may pursue their highest possible degree of personal well-being and independence.” My role helped me develop a new perspective of the population, and, through examining the history of oppression and stigma, my compassion grew. I saw the value of advocacy and the power I held in representing the people I supported, assisting them to enrich their lives and strengthen their connections to their communities. Four months after graduation, I was offered a position as a geriatric support services coordinator at Tri Valley, Inc., a nonprofit organization focusing its efforts on providing various services to aging adults and their families throughout Worcester County. 

During my collegiate career, I learned that I am driven by my desire to support and be supported. I have found that there is much value in recognizing the human potential. We can be our best when our attributes are respected and nurtured, ultimately shaping our identities and leading us to discover our place in the world. Roger Ingersoll, a lawyer and veteran, once stated, “We rise by lifting others.” I was lifted; therefore, I am here, now. I owe much of that to my experience on this campus, and I am so proud to share my story as a Worcester State University alumna.

If there is one thing I want you to remember today, it is that there is power in your sense of self and your abilities. I may not know all that each of you are faced with on your path of life but what I do know is that you have made it this far, even through the hardest of times. Stay the course. Utilize all this campus has to offer. Seek people and resources that fill your cup, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As the author Roy T. Bennett once said, “Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself. Believe in yourself, your abilities, and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for.” Now, this may all seem easier said than done but do your best to visualize your highest self and show up as that image every single day. You’ve got this! Your horizons are bright and plentiful. Thank you.

Top photo: Alumna Taneisha Mings and President Barry Maloney prepare for Convocation. Photo by Deborah Alvarez O’Neil.

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