A&T State student receives bachelor’s degree – 38 years after she first enrolled

Michelle Wright

A&T State student receives bachelor’s degree – 38 years after she first enrolled
May 19
13:39 2021

Last Sunday was a very special day for Winston-Salem resident Michelle Wright. Nearly 40 years after she first enrolled at the N.C. A&T State University, Wright walked across the stage and received her bachelor’s degree.

In the fall of 1983, after graduating from high school, Wright decided to take her talents to N.C. A&T, where she majored in music education. Wright said music has always been a big part of her life, so it was a no-brainer that she would go into that field. 

“My whole family are music lovers, my mother and my grandmother were musicians in the church for years and my grandmother taught music in two different school systems … on my father’s side of the family, all of them sing so it was in my blood,” Wright laughed while talking with The Chronicle last week.

Wright made it to her junior year, but like a lot of college students, the newfound freedom she had was too much to handle, which resulted in her dropping out in 1986. Wright said growing up, she didn’t have a lot of freedom, so when she got on campus she took advantage of it. 

“My dad was kind of strict,” Wright said. “He exposed us to a lot of cultural things, but I didn’t have the experience of other things like going to the parties and doing a lot of hanging out, so when I did get to A&T and freedom was gifted to me, because of me being naive and green, I didn’t know how to manage … so by year three I literally flunked out of A&T.”

Wright said she always thought about going back and earning her degree, but she didn’t think she was capable of getting it done. She started giving it more thought after her partner, Antonette Penn, heard about the Aggies at the Goal Line, a program designed to help former Aggies who did not complete their bachelor’s degrees return to the university. 

A few months after she started looking into the program, Wright’s son was shot and killed. “In the midst of me trying to make a decision on what to do, if I could do it and all that, my son was killed,” she said. Wright said her son’s death is what pushed her to go back. And on Aug. 16, 2017, on what would’ve been her son’s 23rd birthday, Wright started her second stint at N.C. A&T. 

“I knew I had to have some purpose in my life because if not, I was going to be consumed by anger and hatred,” she continued. “I just knew I had to channel that energy in another way … and the fact that I started on Junior’s birthday was a sign that this was what I needed to be doing.”

While holding down a full-time job, taking care of her mother and other family members, Wright completed the requirements for her bachelor’s degree by taking six hours a semester and nine hours in the summer. She said it wasn’t easy, but she was determined to get it done. 

“The tassel was worth the hassle,” Wright laughed. “It wasn’t easy … we’re talking about returning to school after 30-plus years, school had evolved and I hadn’t. I didn’t know how to upload assignments –  we were still turning in papers and writing in pen and pencil when I left – so I had to learn a whole new system. I had to make a complete paradigm shift to be able to make it.”

With support from her family, church family, and other loved ones, Wright was able to finish what she set out to do 38 years ago and on Sunday, May 9, Wright walked across the stage and received her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. Wright said she isn’t done; she has plans to start a master’s program at UNC Greensboro later this year. 

Wright said when she walked across the stage, she had to pinch herself to make sure it was really happening. 

“I dreamed of that day I saw myself going across the stage, but at some points I didn’t think it was possible. But when that day came, it was indescribable. 

“I felt relieved. I felt accomplished. I finally did it,” Wright said. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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