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.
William T. Walker Jr. named first Mr. Cheyney
Cheyney University has crowned Janelle McKelvey as its 2012–13 Miss Cheyney University and William T. Walker Jr. as the school’s first Mr. Cheyney University.
McKelvey is a General Science major and Keystone scholar, with an extensive Cheyney heritage. Her parents James and Rochelle McKelvey are Cheyney alumni. Walker is a Communications Major with a focus on broadcasting.
“Creating A New Legacy To Treasure” was the theme of the Inaugural Mr. and Miss Cheyney University Pageant.
The event was hosted recently by the Office of Student Activities and the Student Government Cooperative Association in the Marian Anderson Music Center.
Pageant host and hostess, Aaron Yancey and Arisa Abdur-Rahman, led the audience through the evening. The night included a blue carpet promenade of 2011–12 Miss Cheyney Skakeemah Simmons, viewing of the 2012 contestants and announcements.
Female contestants included: Ciera Brown; Shakia Marie’ Canty; Tresa Marie Gray; Alexa Kirsey; Sha’Tique Martin; Janelle McKelvey; and Sibongele Murray.
Mr. Cheyney entries included: Antoine Pendleton; Tyrik Thorn; and William T. Walker Jr.
The talent component brought poetry readings, a piano solo, a dance routine monologues and songs.
Evening highlights included Cheyney President Michelle Howard-Vital’s compliments and her reflection on Simmons’ reign.
“Shakeemah was the best Cheyney representative ever — she has done everything you can imagine with such grace,” she said. “And tonight has been first-rate — it will be hard to top this next year.”
Show organizer, Sharon Thorn, reflected on the inaugural event.
“In a place with 175 years of history I’m a little skeptical of saying first,” she said. “But I can say the three Mr. Cheyney contestants are now a part of Cheyney history as a first on our campus. Next spring, this year’s Mr. Cheyney will head to the Mr. HBCU Pageant to represent Cheyney University.”
Simmons gave the audience parting words, “Thank you all,” she said. “This has been the best year of my life. Imagine. When I come back, I’ll be an alumni.”