When Michelle Miller started her college experience at the University of St. Thomas (UST), she knew that she wanted to be as involved as possible. But after four years, “involved” is an understatement.
She’s been so active in her community that Miller earned the Tommie Award, presented each year to a UST senior who the students, faculty and staff believe “best represents the ideals of the university through scholarship, leadership and campus involvement” according to the award’s web page. “Once I started at St. Thomas, I knew I wanted to be involved and serve to the point where I would be considered for this award,” Miller says. “I wanted to act in a way that would make people think I’d be a good nominee.”
This year, 17 seniors were nominated—14 women and three men. Three finalists were chosen and Miller, the only female finalist, won the award. “I was over the moon excited to be nominated,” she says. “ I attempt to live a very passionate life and I’m not going to do something that I’m not passionate about 100 percent.”
Miller built quite the list of activities and involvement at UST and the surrounding community, ranging from an internship with the REAL Program as a peer advisor, to Cadenza, a female a Capella club on campus. She was also a resident advisor, a student orientation leader, a member of various other mixed choirs, and continued to choreograph and teach at Woodbury Dance Center.
Ultimately, Miller takes pride in earning this award because it helps show those who struggle with similar issues or come from a similar background that they too can achieve what she has. As the second woman of color and first black woman to win the Tommie Award, she hopes others will see her as an example and validation of their value and how they can rise to the standard of being Tommie of the Year, despite any adversity.
As a UST senior, Miller studied English with a writing emphasis, with a minor in American Culture and Difference. With her English degree, she plans to pursue a career as a children’s and young adult author. And with her minor—which she describes as a combination of sociology and anthropology as it relates to diversity studies—she hopes to become a “cultural critic,” using her studies to analyze, dissect and critique American culture.
Two of Miller’s mentors speak very highly of her, having known her since her freshman year in college. Jessica Gjerde, a residence life area director at UST, met Miller through the student diversity and inclusion office and later worked with her at the REAL Program. “Michelle has done everything she’s done alongside some adversity and some real personal challenges that no one would ever guess she has because she’s so positive and kind to everyone,” Gjerde says. “What’s inspiring about her is that she holds a balance between maturity and a very child-like and imaginative approach to life.”
Todd Lawrence, an English professor at UST (and one of Miller’s favorites), also holds in high esteem her involvement and dedication, both on and off campus. Lawrence says, “I think Michelle has exemplified what the award is. It recognizes students who embody our mission, who are working for the common good … she’s full of love and energy.”
Having won the Tommie Award, Miller’s name will be engraved into the student center building, a sentiment that she says reminds her not to stop doing what earned her the award in the first place.
Michelle Miller’s Advice for Incoming College Freshmen
Talk to your adviser. Mine said something that stuck … learn how to be a beginner. It’s okay to feel anxious and nervous. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and understand that everyone is doing this for the first time. It’s not a competition, it’s about your own progress and process.