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Meet the Class of 2017

View our Commencement 2017 photos here

In the days leading up to graduation, Huston-Tillotson University will profile members of the Class of 2017. We hope you enjoy their stories!

Graduate William Purcell, Jr.

William Purcell Jr.

William Purcell Jr. (bottom right) with his two sons, and his wife, Alma

Huston-Tillotson University has always been a part of William Purcell, Jr.’s life. 

Two of his uncles, a cousin and his sister are all proud alumnae. His two sons, one of whom will graduate alongside him this Saturday, are students as well.

From a young age, Huston-Tillotson University has always sparked an interest in Purcell’s mind, as his paternal grandparents owned a home just a few blocks away from campus on 7th Street. It was there that they rented out a set of smaller apartments located behind the main house –and also where Purcell his first interactions with University students.

“I used to play in the courtyard outside the apartments and wonder what the students were learning and who they would become in their lives,” he said.

Upon his high school graduation, Purcell, then 19, was wondering what he would become. Instead of forcing himself into college, something he knew was the wrong fit at the time, he decided to enter the workforce.

He met his wife, Alma, in the early nineties. They’ve been married for nearly 26 years and have two children. She was the one person, he said, that never let him down and pushed him to succeed academically. “She was my biggest cheerleader and always made me feel that I can complete this journey,” he said.   

 ”I did go back to school for a time in my early twenties, but again decided to focus on my career,” he said. “I have been fortunate enough in my career that not having a degree has not hindered me, but I always had a desire to go back.”

 The convenience of the Adult Degree Program, combined with his familial history at the University, and the serene campus was enough to entice Purcell to enroll in classes. 

“One thing that always struck me about the campus is how quiet it is. It is very serene. It is not as large as some universities, but the I like that atmosphere. The campus puts me in the right frame of mind to learn,” he said. 

He is currently a director with a private company, but aspires to become the organization’s Vice President.

William Purcell, Jr., will graduate on May 6, 2017 with an Associates of Arts in Liberal Arts.

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Graduate Clifton Styles 

Clifton Styles

To help support his young family, Clifton Styles said that enlisting in the Air Force in August of 1999 was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

That decision would eventually lead to voluntary deployment in Iraq after 9/11 and a cross over into the Army because of the surge in troops being sent overseas. In 2014, after 10 years, Styles was medically discharged from the Army – but his wife Meme had been raising their family in Alaska and El Paso for his entire enlistment.  

Although he was born in Germany – his father was also in the service – Styles claims California as home. However a brief stint in Inglewood, Chicago, where the majority of his large family is, still holds a place in his heart.

When it came time to find a place to enroll their children in the kind of schools their family was looking for, the Styles packed their bags and headed to Austin, where Styles said he truly discovered Huston-Tillotson University.

“I had applied to Texas State and UT but a friend told me about this HBCU on the Eastside. I never really considered going to an HBCU, so I checked it out, and I’m glad I did,” he said. “The campus here at Huston-Tillotson University is beautiful. HT was like being at home. Everyone here was helpful and I really just felt comfortable here.”

His love for the University and for the HBCU environment grew as he attended classes and got to know his classmates, professors and the HT community. His daughter, Jalisa, has made the decision to enroll in Huston-Tillotson University beginning in the fall of 2017. Welcome to the #RamFam, Jalisa!

A socially active and civically-dedicated resident of Pflugerville, attending Huston-Tillotson University inspired Styles to co-found Black Pflugerville, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the social and economic needs to black people in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Since attending Huston-Tillotson, I’ve increased my sense of just how wonderful and important supporting HBCUs are… I don’t know what this University hasn’t been a part of. HT has been and will be a staple in this community and I’m grateful to be a part of that,” he said.

Styles hopes his social activism will stem a successful career in the Texas legislature as a State Representative, or even a run at a seat in the United States Congress.

“I have big plans. For now I’d like to focus on ending the school to prison pipeline affecting so many young kids especially in our communities of color. I plan on obtaining my Masters in Human and Social Services,” he said.

Styles will graduate on May 6, 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. Keep up with his social and political aspirations by following him on Instagram at @styles_atx. 

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Graduate Mary Holt

Holt

Mary Holt and Hatton Sumners Board Member Scott Higginbotham

 She didn’t know it at that time, but Mary Holt had already visited the institution that would eventually grant her Bachelor of Arts degree less than seven years later.

“I came to a worship service at the King- Seabrook Chapel with my church,” Holt said. “I thought it was a huge church campus; I had missed the Huston-Tillotson University sign at the entrance.”

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Holt moved to Killeen, Texas, on Valentine’s Day of 2009 – it was a fitting time for a new take on life and love, as Holt headed south to “find a purpose”.

“I was just looking for a job and some different surroundings, but I found my whole life,” she said. “The surroundings were slower than what I was used to but the relaxed way of life gave me the much-needed space and time to heal from the homelessness, heartbreak, and the uncertainty that I endured in Michigan because of the economic downturn.”

Fast-forward two years: her mother had moved from Detroit to Texas and back again, her sister had given birth to a baby boy, and she had found the love of her life, Brent.

Life was moving fast and Holt and her husband, Brent had already welcomed their first child, Za’Riyah, into their lives, but a second child (named Heavenly) was on the way when their family was plagued by life’s simple annoyances, car troubles with no ability to ease up on commitments. Holt’s car troubles led her to miss the classes she was already enrolled in for a full week. Her then advisor told her that even though she had completed all of her assignments, she needed to find a school closer to her on a bus line. Enter Huston-Tillotson’s Adult Degree Program (ADP), an accredited option for Holt that she said was “fiscally affordable” with classes that “easily fit into” her schedule.

“Huston-Tillotson taught me how to be a truly reflective, effective, and positive leader. I’m HT’s Adult Degree Program’s biggest fan because it has taught me to be intentional in my community service, be alert and engaged in civic engagement, community building, and social justice,” she said.

At Huston-Tillotson, Holt attributes much of her success in the ADP program to her mentor, Ms. Kathy Smith.

“Her (Smith’s) professionalism and leadership has helped me to excel and has pushed me beyond what I thought were my limits to discover my inner strength and confidence,” Holt said. “She never let me miss out on an opportunity, even when I was unsure of anything I was doing academically or dealing with in my life. After talking with her, I’d have a game plan on how to solve my problems. Kathy Smith is a game changing professor.”

In the next five years, Holt says she sees herself as an accomplished educator/entrepreneur of homeschool cohesion centers and as a published author.

Mary Holt will graduate on Saturday, May 6, 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. You can follow her future steps on Twitter at @GospelLady14.

Congratulations, Mary! _______________________________________________________________________