Looking back isn’t always easy.
Motivated by the memory of her mother, Miss Cheyney University Skakeemah Simmons has made education her top priority.
According to Simmons, she was always an honor roll student, but after the death of her mother, there was a push to succeed further in college.
Her mother, Terry Hilliard, was in the second tower during the Sept. 11th attacks.
As a sixth-grade student at her school in Jersey City, Simmons had a clear view of the buildings falling from her classroom window.
Hilliard survived the attacks and arrived home later that night, but she later died from MRSA, which was caused by inhaling toxic chemicals while trying to escape.
Simmons remembers the day her mother died, just three weeks after she began college and she honors her mother by continuing to do well and move forward.
“I’m glad it happened,” she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t value education as much. I have to graduate because this is what she wanted.”
As Miss Cheyney, Simmons strived to enforce the values of the university and make sure fellow students are aware of the importance of being a proud Cheyney student. Throughout her reign she used her “Together We Make a Difference” campaign to encourage students.
Dexter Stucke, a friend of Simmons and graduate of Lincoln University admires the way Simmons has represented not only Cheyney but all Black colleges.
“I think many HBCU’s over the past few years have been looked at as unnecessary due to Blacks being accepted into primary white institutions,” he said. “I’m always inspired by the droves of Black leaders who attend HBCUs because they show me that in a world full of inequalities there are still endless possibilities for growth.”
According to Simmons, Cheyney is a land of opportunity where young scholars receive everything they need to become successful in their endeavors.
“I feel like I have everything I need for life after college,” she said. “Cheyney has prepared me for the future.”
She wants students to use their time at Cheyney to take ownership of their futures by using the resources available to them, including internship assistance and other various programs aimed at preparing students for their careers.
In an environment where individuality is sometimes lost, Simmons stays true to herself by maintaining her personality and morals.
“I won Miss Cheyney because of who I am, not who I should be,” she said. “I bring my personality to the crown. People say I shouldn’t ‘act like that’ or ‘do that,’ but that’s just who I am.”
This school year, Simmons had a full itinerary — including being a student mentor, working as an intern for the Wendy Williams Show in New York and being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
She credits time management and dedication to her title for her success.
“I made a promise to the university, grades come first,” she said.