Elisabeth Cheries is no shy violet.
“I have a voice and there is hardly a classmate or professor who isn’t immediately made aware of this,” she jokes.
Cheries, who recently graduated from Northeastern University College of Professional Studies with a Bachelor of Science in Management degree, wasn’t always so sure of herself, or of her path in life.
Before taking a job at General Dynamics, an aerospace and defense company, she was an interior finish carpenter. While swinging a hammer one day, a realization hit her in a rush. “Looking around me, I saw carpenters with years of solid work behind them—good people, hard workers and nothing to show for it,” she says. “No plans for a future beyond the swinging of a hammer and no plan about what to do when they couldn’t do that any more. I didn’t want that.”
“I came from the wrong side of the tracks,” she says. “I was a high school dropout. Even though I had high scores on my GED, I thought ‘Who pays attention to those?’ I had the kind of childhood you read about in books and sigh with relief knowing that it wasn’t yours. I made a million bad decisions as a teenager.”
Northeastern had been on her radar growing up.
“But it was the mirage in the desert—it seemed beyond me or above me,” she says.
Still, she said she was determined to now go, drawn to the academic challenge.
“I wanted it as much as I’d ever wanted anything,” she says. “I don’t believe in shortcuts. I want the best teachers, with the best assignments—and by best I mean difficult, and by difficult I mean an opportunity to really learn.”
While at Northeastern, she made the most out of her studies and of being around other dedicated students. As she realized how suited she was for college and found herself regularly on the Dean’s list, she began to take on a leadership role in class. Her encouragement of others and respect for their opinions resonated with her classmates: Cheries’ style was inspiring rather than dominating, encouraging rather than directive.
“I wanted to help others whose voices are tentative, subdued, or overlooked,” she says.
The experience left her feeling transformed, having earned the confidence to believe in herself by helping others.
“I learned that I have enormous potential,” she says. “I had been a shadow too afraid to speak. I didn’t know that what I had to say had value. Northeastern changed that.”
Cheries’ passion made an impression on faculty, who selected her as one of Northeastern’s 2013-2014 “Huntington 100,” a group of extraordinary juniors and seniors who excel academically and in several other areas, including leadership.
Graduation day was the realization of a long-time dream. Cheries was the first in her family to earn a college degree, let alone do it with highest honors.
“One of my cousins boasted that she was ‘proud to share blood with me’ and another wore a Northeastern t-shirt in my honor,” she says. “To have them proud of me means more than I have words for.”
And as far as dreams go, graduating inspired a few others.
“I want to spend the rest of my life open to learning—new ideas, old ideas, and everything in between,” she says. “And I want to teach people like me, people who think they’ve made too many mistakes, to succeed. People who think they are too old and cannot compete; people who think they don’t have time to go to work, raise a family, and sit in a classroom. I would like to know that I have given something that has inspired someone else in their dreams, and allowed them to believe in themselves.”