From Desperation to Graduation

MOUNT OLIVE-A college degree can signify something completely different to each graduate. For some, it’s the first step towards the rest of their lives; a leap into the big world waiting for them outside of their hometowns and high schools. For others, it’s an opportunity to build upon the framework they have already laid out for themselves, giving them the needed push to a long sought after promotion or salary increase. But for some, like Sheila Hall, a college education marks a complete transformation; less about the degree and more about a personal statement of resilience and perseverance.

Hall’s life journey has led her from the depths of desperation and despair to become a successful business owner and college student.

In her early twenties, Hall was raising her two young children while being on the receiving end of an abusive relationship.  In the end, her ex-husband left Hall and the two children to fend for themselves.  Just months into the separation, Hall faced the first of many nightmares. Her ex-husband kidnapped her youngest son, Orlando.

“He snatched Orlando from his bed while I was hanging laundry in the garden,” she said.  “I did not see Orlando again until he was a fully grown man.”

This event kick started a downward spiral in Hall’s life. Her family tried to help, but depression quickly overcame her.  Hall attempted to commit suicide on two occasions and then she began using drugs and alcohol.

“I had taken my family to a level that they had never experienced before,” Hall said. “They witnessed the physical, mental, and emotional changes, and it quickly became obvious to them that something was seriously wrong with me. I was often approached about what was going on, but I denied everything out of shame. I ended up without a job because I was chasing drugs. I was without a place to live. I slept on park benches and abandoned houses, or under bridges and old cars. To eat, I stood in long soup kitchen lines.”

When it seemed as if there was no way of turning things around, in 2007 Hall met a man who changed it all for her. He introduced her to church, taking her on a regular basis and converting her slowly into a woman of strong faith. She was baptized and felt that she was finally “saved” from the life she was living. The man, Frederick Hall, is now her husband.

Hall now has her own business in Kinston. She runs a take-out restaurant called Brother’s Up the Hill Grill, where she makes home cooked meals and fresh sliced subs, burgers, and salads.
Hall is also a proud grandmother of three.  She was reunited with Orlando, after he traced her through relatives. Orlando now has a child of his own. Hall’s oldest son, Christopher, is a chef in Kentucky.  He and his wife have two children.

The next step in Hall’s life-changing transformation was the decision to go to college. As one of four children who had not pursued a college degree, Hall wanted to make her family proud and make the turnaround full circle. As with many older students, Hall had to choose a college which was tailored to her needs as a working professional.  The University of Mount Olive fit the bill, allowing Hall to get a college education and successfully continue working full time.  Hall has completed her associate’s degree in general studies, and is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Upon her anticipated graduation in 2015, Hall aims to open a group home for troubled teens or a facility for recovering addicts with healthcare issues. She wants to help people, who are in a similar position as she once was.

The nightmare has finally turned into a fairy-tale for Hall, and the future can only get brighter with the completion of her degree. UMO ended up as the perfect fit, acting as the catalyst for her aspirations.

“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t make it,” Hall advises. “Take a hold of faith and keep dreaming, because dreams really do come true with a little hard work and perseverance. Quitting is not an option.”

The Trojan warrior seems all the more fitting as the mascot of UMO, as students like Hall continue to represent the fighting spirit of the University, and truly embody the school motto; Lives Transformed.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College. For more information, visit