Affirmation of her potential. Confirmation of her strength.
MiKyella “Mimi” Connyer’s Delta College diploma carries with it so much more than the credentials it bears.
The paper—declaring that the 27-year-old had graduated with honors—is a testament that her tumultuous past is behind her and how it’s truly never too late to change your life.
“It (the diploma) means that I beat all of the odds stacked against me, that I can be part of society,” Connyer says. “I can finally hold my head up high and make eye contact, because I am equal.”
But before she was on track to graduate with honors, Connyer was living a much different life.
A ward of the state since the age of 1, Connyer’s childhood never pointed toward college or anywhere positive. Separated from her mother, passed off, and suffering from physical and sexual abuse, life for Connyer was a series of real nightmares.
A PTSD diagnosis at age 12 was followed with an epilepsy diagnosis the following year.
Connyer was living in a Detroit shelter at age 16, after stints in foster care, short-lived stays with relatives, and fleeting, volatile reunions with her mother.
“I was lost and living in an environment reflecting it,” says Connyer. “College was the least of my worries. I was trying to survive at that point.”
At 18 she was pregnant with her first child, and another two followed before she turned 23.
Any hope Connyer had for a better future was buried under years of despair. But her three little children chipped away at the layers of mistrust, fear, and self-doubt that had been encroaching on Connyer her entire life.
“My environment showed all the wrongdoings that shouldn’t be in eyesight of children,” she says. “I knew then that I had to make a change so I could afford to move somewhere my children could feel safe.”
So, she earned her GED. And with her children as her motivation, she enrolled in college.
But enrolling was only the first step of what would become another long and difficult journey for her.
Suddenly, Connyer was surrounded by friendly students and faculty. She was surrounded by a new normal. Before, “normal” was avoiding eye contact. It was being told she was a “waste of God’s creation.” It was not knowing how to ask for or even accept offered help.
“Up to this point, I didn’t trust nobody, and letting someone into my world wasn’t an option,” she says. “This was my mentality when I enrolled [in college], but this was also the reason I chose to go to college—to change what I thought was normal.”
With no financial stability, electricity to Connyer’s home was shut off, and she and her children had to leave. They hopped from house to house and landed for a short time with Connyer’s mother, the four of them and all of their belongings in a single, cramped room.
Again, those three little kids were the push she needed to ask for help. She reached out to a college professor, who helped Connyer find housing.
Even with now-stable housing, Connyer didn’t have transportation to school, but that wasn’t going to stop her either. A three-mile ride on the handlebars of her then-boyfriend-now-husband’s bike would deliver her to the bus stop where she’d board for college. And she never missed a day of class.
At school she had to work harder than she ever had. Academics didn’t come easy for Connyer, and she spent countless hours working with professors, studying, and completing assignments.
“There were many times I wanted to give up, but I always had their (her children’s) picture on the front cover of my binder as a reminder in why I’m doing this,” she says.
It took four long years, but she didn’t give up. In May 2015, she walked across the stage to accept her hard-earned diploma—her little piece of “normal” and a tangible reminder she can do whatever she puts her mind to. Next on Connyer’s agenda? Writing a book about her life.