‘I’m really appreciative of my journey.’ How this Bay Area native overcame obstacles, blossomed as part of Mills College at Northeastern community

Being the student speaker at the 2023 Mills College at Northeastern commencement holds a special significance for Edin Woldegebriel Haddis, who is the first student in her family to get a college degree. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

OAKLAND, Calif.—Edin Haddis told her family she had a surprise for them that would be revealed during the Mills College at Northeastern University commencement. She just didn’t tell them it was her appearance as the student speaker during Sunday’s ceremony.

Haddis, a Bay Area native, received her bachelor’s degree in psychology during commencement, and is the first member of her family to receive a college education. For Haddis’ parents, who came to the U.S. in the late 1980s from the Tigray region of Ethiopia as they fled the country’s civil war, education has always been a priority. Her parents have talked about graduation with her since the first grade. She knew this moment had to be special.

“My dad would always tell me, ‘Once you get to graduation, that’s when I’ll be satisfied and feel like I’ll be accomplished in life and you made it through,’” Haddis tells Northeastern Global News. “Having the opportunity to hear my voice is just something a little extra special.”

Although Sunday was a moment of celebration for her and her family, who cheered her on throughout the ceremony, Haddis said her journey to that point was defined not only by her success but the challenges and obstacles she faced along the way.

“I want you to remember the all-nighters, the times you felt alone, the frustrations, and the challenges,” Haddis told her fellow graduates during her commencement speech. “Don’t forget about these tumultuous times. Instead use these experiences as tools in all your future endeavors. Draw on the roots you planted, the connections you made and those who made you feel safe and welcome.” 

As she reflects on the significance of graduating, Haddis admits she keeps on returning to her first semester at University of California Merced, where she began her collegiate journey before coming to Mills College at Northeastern. At Merced, Haddis struggled with significant mental health challenges. Her grades started to slip, and she decided to take a leave of absence. She tried to return for her second semester, but faced the same challenges, which led her to drop out entirely. 

With support from her family, she was able to recover, but as she looked to attend class at City College of San Francisco, the ghost of her previous college experience led to a crisis of confidence. Her decision to go back to school was driven by her family, specifically her father, and her faith.

“My dad and my sister, they both believed in me even more than I believed in myself,” she says through tears. “I feel like I owe it to myself to at least try because if I don’t try, that’s it. There’s nothing else that’s going to come of it.”

Edin Haddis speaking at Mills College at Northeastern
Edin Haddis surprised her parents when she took to the commencement stage as the student speaker for the 2023 Mills College at Northeastern commencement. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

As she re-entered college, Haddis made a promise to herself that she would prove how capable she truly was. She enrolled at City College of San Francisco and ended up getting straight As. Eventually, an English professor hers at City College, Alisa Messer, a Mills alum, ended up convincing her to transfer to Mills College at Northeastern, which she did in 2021.

When she first came to Mills College at Northeastern, she started to have flashbacks to her experience at Merced. She struggled to connect with her fellow students––instruction was still remote at the time––and “plant my roots.” On top of that, Tigray was once again engulfed in war and she was struggling to balance the weight of her family’s struggles with the relatively mundane stresses of her life as a student.

Luckily, one of her professors at the time, Erin Kinnally, provided guidance and mentorship, helping Haddis blossom as a student and member of the Mills College at Northeastern community.

“I was doing well academically, but I also wanted to make sure I was doing well mentally and part of that was having a community,” Haddis says. “As time went on and I started to feel more comfortable within the school, I slowly started to branch out, talk to people, join these clubs and that’s when … it definitely made me feel more attached and like Mills was my school and where I belong.”

Haddis joined Black Student Collective, became a residential advisor, worked in the fitness center and forged connections with faculty, staff and students. 

On Sunday, she walked across the commencement stage, not only to receive her degree but to let her voice be heard. That moment was made even more meaningful because of every step, struggle and success that led to it. It’s why, as she reflects on the significance of graduating, Haddis can’t help but return to her first semester at Merced.

“During that time, I could not even imagine myself being where I am,” Haddis says. “I was in such a bad place, it just didn’t seem like it was in the realm of possibility. As much as I’m really happy, all I can really think about is how bad it was then, in a way where I’m really appreciative of my journey. … Even when it’s the lowest of your lows, you can still turn it around, and there’s a possibility for great things to come.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.mello-klein@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.