Auburn University at Montgomery Honors Program senior Elizabeth Meads never stayed in a city long enough to really call it home growing up.
She faced an even more difficult period in her life when her parents separated and she, along with her brother and mother, lived homeless for a year, Meads said.
“A lot of people say they know rock bottom, but until you have only the clothes on your body and nothing else, you really do not understand,” she said. “From that point forward, I knew that I wanted to go to college and break the cycle of poverty that has plagued my family for at least three generations.”
Meads is on the right path. She will graduate this May in the Spring 2020 class with a bachelor’s degree in history and minor in political science from the University Honors Program, becoming the first ever in her family to finish college, Meads said.
“Thankfully, I had the most amazing support system through family, friends, teachers and community leaders who have always, and even now continue, to cheer me on,” she said.
Her journey through poverty, depression, and self-doubt at times, to earning her college degree inspires Meads to keep reaching for her dreams. Every experience in her life prepared her to transform into the student she is today, Meads said.
Meads — a native of Dothan — and her family called several different states home because of her father’s work with the U.S. Department of Transportation, but she found stability her senior year in high school when her family settled in the small town of Jack, Alabama, where she learned about AUM.
Accustomed to living in a small town and attending a small high school, Meads said AUM’s small campus and offer of scholarship opportunities were appealing.
“The small class sizes were a motivation to attend a smaller campus because I only graduated with 45 other people in high school,” she said. “I know at some colleges there would have been basic or core classes that had well over one hundred students in a single class.”
Her move to Montgomery didn’t come without some doubts, Meads said. She leaned on family for support.
“I really felt like a fish out of water and had a flare up of mild depression,” she said. “Although my mom never went to school, she supported me more than I know some college students with two parents who went to college. I do not think I would have been able to do it without her constantly pushing me and always supporting me every step of the way, even through uncharted waters.”
With support from fellow Honors Program students and AUM faculty members such as Distinguished Research Professor of History Benjamin Severance, Meads said she discovered her passions for volunteering and learning about cultures through history. She also opened up to new friendships and immersed herself into campus life.
“At AUM, I found myself surrounded by international students on my very first day.,” she said. “The nature of my discipline, understanding history and culture, comes from how culturally diverse AUM is. AUM inspired me to push my own cultural boundaries and explore the unknown with a crown of confidence.”
As a freshman, Meads stepped outside her comfort zone by giving back in the community through agencies such as the American Legion in downtown Montgomery. In 2016, she traveled with other Honors Program students to Louisiana to volunteer helping victims of flooding in the region.
“A personal motto of mine is ‘service above self.’” “I love working within my community, and I really dove off head-first my freshman year,” she said. “The whole experience really shaped my idea of what it means to be a good neighbor and to help out your national community just as quickly as you would your next-door neighbor.”
Meads’ selflessness in serving others as an AUM student has not gone unnoticed. In spring 2019, she was awarded the University Honors Program’s Aya Zaied Service Award, which recognizes students who demonstrate an exceptional degree of commitment to serving others.
“The University Honors Program is such an amazing, diverse, service-oriented group of students and faculty who truly do represent the best of the best at AUM,” Meads said. “The interdisciplinary learning that is cultivated through Honors classes is crucial to creating citizens of the world, promoting academic achievement and developing a service-above-self mindset.”
Because of the University Honors Program and Department of History, Meads said she gained valuable life lessons and experiences, from contributing to the Department of History’s AUM Historical Review journal and earning its Don Dodd Award to being named a Spring 2020 Homecoming Queen finalist, she said.
“I will forever be thankful to AUM for being my home for the last four years and all the experiences that I have had,” she said. “I am proud to be a Mighty Warhawk. Now it is time to spread my wings and fly.”
In August, Meads will enter the master’s program in library and information studies at The University of Alabama, where she is in the first cohort of students accepted into the university’s new EBSCO Digital Archivist program.
“I want to be someone who preserves knowledge and information to overall aid the progress of humanity towards a brighter future,” she said.