Spotlight on December graduates: Michelle Murphy

Michelle MurphyTears are inevitable for Michelle Murphy.

Murphy knows December 15 will be an emotional day for her and her family. She will don her cap and gown and receive a master’s degree in public administration.

“I never saw this coming,” she said.

The Fall 2012 commencement ceremony will mark the culmination of a rough patch for Murphy and her family that spans nearly five years.

Murphy’s road to academia began in 2007 when she lost her job after the mortgage industry collapsed. That setback inspired her to enroll at University of Michigan-Dearborn to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her transition to UM-Dearborn was made easier because of the university’s Student Outreach and Academic Resources (SOAR) program, which increases access to post-secondary education for nontraditional adult learners throughout metropolitan Detroit who endure socioeconomic challenges.

But financial troubles followed Murphy soon after she started at the university, as she and her five kids were evicted from their Farmington home.

“We ended up in a homeless shelter in Pontiac for 21 months,” she said.

Even without a permanent home, Murphy still found time to complete her bachelor’s degree and successfully raise five children.

The job market still looked bleak, so Murphy reenrolled at the university as a graduate student to obtain a master’s degree in public administration.

She eventually found an apartment for her and her kids, but after the landlord found out six people were living in a two-bedroom unit, they were forced to leave.

“I knew at one point, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Murphy, who recalled one of her favorite quotes. “Life is like a disco – no matter how much the music changes, you just keep dancing. I had to keep moving. If I let my children see me falling apart, then I knew they would fall apart.”

It served as just another roadblock for Murphy to trudge through. She and her kids lived in a hotel for a year and frequently stayed with friends and family.

But through it all, she remained focused on earning her master’s degree and setting a positive example for her children.

“Michelle faced ongoing, serious socioeconomic obstacles throughout much of the time she was here on our campus,” said SOAR Director Ellen Judge-Gonzalez. “I don’t know anyone, myself included, who wouldn’t have just thrown up their hands and said, ‘I give up,’ but Michelle is one of the most amazing women I know. She had a plan for moving herself and her family forward through education and she would not be deterred.”

On December 15, Murphy’s hard work will be awarded, as her five kids plan to cheer on their mother from the Fieldhouse.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “After this, we can get through anything.”

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