Student Highlight: Michele Sheppard
A single mom. Three young boys. An acceptance to her dream university. For Michele Sheppard, failing was not an option.
“When I was accepted into A&M it was probably the worst part of my life. At the time, I felt like my life was over. I thought I was going to have to rebuild myself, but I knew I could do it. I knew I had the grit and determination. I just had to pull myself up off the floor because I knew I had those three precious boys who were depending on me.”
Sheppard dreamed of attending Texas A&M and fell in love during her first visit in high school. However, due to family issues, she had to stay close to home. She went on to graduate from Lamar University with a degree in elementary education, got married and moved to East Texas where she taught for 10 years.
During her time in East Texas, Sheppard decided it was time to pursue her master’s degree to become a principal. She took a few hours at Stephen F. Austin before she got pregnant with her first son. Sheppard took a break from classes and later, her second son was born.
“During that time, I really questioned if this is what I really wanted to do. I felt this draw to do something more and really help students. I looked back on why I got into education in the first place – to help children and make a difference in their lives. I just felt this overwhelming draw to go into counseling.”
That draw took her back to Lamar University where she took classes for counseling. Not long after, Sheppard’s husband got a job in Katy and the family moved. Sheppard was hired as a teacher at James Williams Elementary, but she knew she wanted something more. One day in the Fall of 2013, she felt it was time to go for her dream and apply to Texas A&M.
Nine months later, she opened her email and got the message she hoped for for years.
“I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because it was a dream come true. Did I have a plan? No, not at all. But that’s how I do things. I step out on faith and I know once I get there I can do it.”
Sheppard admits there were days and nights that were difficult, but she could not imagine getting a better degree from a better university.
“If you want something bad enough, you will make it happen. That is what I did with my life. I wanted this so badly that I was not going to let anything or anyone get in the way of that. Twice already I had put my dreams aside to finish my degree and I knew that this was my chance. This was my chance to go back and finish my degree at my dream university.”
On May 12, 2017, Sheppard’s second dream came true. She graduated with her master’s in school counseling with dozens of her family and friends there to celebrate her success. Not only did Sheppard graduate, she was also selected as the “student voice” by the Provost Office and presented a Student Appreciation Speech during the commencement ceremony.
“When I walked across the stage, it’s hard to put into words the pride that I felt. I felt the pride not only in myself, but I felt the pride from my kids that I did it and did it against every odd known to man. But, I did it and that was the legacy that I wanted to leave to my boys – that no matter what, no matter what life throws at you, you can do it.”
While Sheppard admits there were those who tried to knock her down and interrupt her dream, she says the key to her success lies with her 98 percent. When she was overwhelmed and ready to give up, her family and friends were there to make sure she did not give up.
“Yes, I did the work. I wrote the papers. I studied. But, I couldn’t have done that without my 98 percent people. You’re always going to have people in your life that love you and support you and do everything they can to make you successful and to lift you up. But, there are going to be people in your life that are going to be negative and try to bring you down. I just kept relying on my 98 percent people. Those people kept me going.”
The passion for education
Sheppard remembers the first moment she thought about becoming an educator. In seventh grade, she had really long hair and her classmates always made fun of her for how long it was.
“One day at lunch – I still remember this like it was yesterday – one of our school counselors came by and starting talking about how much she loved my hair and how beautiful it was. Everyone loved her and from then on, no one ever said another word about my hair.”
She says that struck a chord in her because someone stood up for her and made a difference in her life. She decided to make that her life mission – to help kids and be in their corner and be a voice for others who do not have one.
“I look at teaching as growing a garden. You plant those seeds and when your garden starts to grow, you water it and you nurture it. You talk to your plans and try to nurture them. Your garden grows. It doesn’t always grow at the same speed but it’s growing and eventually they’re going to get there.”
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