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"Things changed when I believed in my true self."
After moving to Harford County from Baltimore City seven years ago and passing Harford Community College every day to and from work, Toni Campbell-Hill made what would be a life-changing decision – she would finish the requirements to earn her degree.
Growing up, the odds were not in Toni's favor. First in the foster care system, then adopted into a relative's home that was unsafe and unstable, then with no home at all, she struggled to survive for years. After high school, a short stint at another community college ended after her GPA plummeted due to personal and financial stresses that left Toni depressed and not knowing where to turn. At that point, college was something that she had no choice but to put off. In an attempt to find work and an affordable living situation, Toni moved to Harford County. Various low-paying jobs barely kept her head above water, but she considered herself in survival mode. That is, until the day she made the decision to enroll at HCC.
Going back to school was daunting and out of Toni's comfort zone, not only from an academic standpoint, but financial concerns were also a major issue. Once she got her acceptance letter and met with the financial aid office, however, there appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Having been a foster child, Toni had not been aware of the tuition waiver for which she was eligible. Says Toni, "Had it not been for this assistance, completing my degree would have been extremely difficult. I am beyond appreciative for all of the assistance I received from HCC and the State of Maryland." She also pursued and received other types of aid for books which allowed her to use her Certified Nursing Assistant paycheck for rent and other living expenses.
Toni's journey hasn't been without many challenges along the way. Her first semester, which consisted of online classes, was far more difficult than she had envisioned. Not having the support of family, plus working while going to school, presented a challenge of balancing life and school demands that almost derailed her. But her determination brought her back on track and she found that her journey and the process of self-discovery rebuilt her confidence. She knew in her heart that she was going to come out on top. Toni's inner voice reminded her: "Embrace these moments. Keep focused. You got this!" Her self-doubt began to dissipate, she applied herself, and her grades began to reflect this transformation.
Graduating was not something that she initially thought possible. But not only did Toni complete her associate degree in 2018, she did so with great academic success. "A dream of mine that felt impossible for the longest time became not only possible, but was accomplished. I strived to maintain an excellent GPA because I didn't want to take this opportunity for granted. I stayed focused and driven, which earned me a place on the Dean’s and President's list several times. Being inducted into the two honor societies (Psi Beta and NSLS) was truly an unexpected reward as well."
"For the longest time, I was told negative things – that I wasn't going to amount to anything, that I wasn't capable. My heart told me I could achieve great things despite my upbringing. Once I got started and saw that I could succeed, I realized I was proving them wrong. People told me I could never do it. I used to believe that. But now I know I am capable," says Toni.
Her experience at HCC helped Toni learn time management strategies, leadership skills, and so much more that she can apply throughout her lifetime. Says Toni, "The atmosphere at HCC was calming and it was not as frightful of a journey as I had first expected. The campus has every form of support that a student needs in order to be successful."
Toni is currently pursuing her bachelor's degree in Sociology-Anthropology with a concentration in Criminal Justice at Towson University Northeast (TUNE). Her dream has always been to work in law enforcement. After a two-year application and waiting process, Toni received word that she had been accepted into training to be a Customs Border Control Protection Officer. When she returns and begins her new career, she will also resume her education.
With only 13-15 credits remaining, she's confident her bachelor's degree will be next on her list of accomplishments. After that? She hopes to move up the ladder in a supervisory role with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and is open to relocating, new challenges, new roles. Toni's goal is to make a difference. With this great start, she's on her way to making her dreams come true.
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