As Michael Bell’s high school career was winding down in 2019, he told his mother he would get a job and make money instead of attending university.
Family and friends, however, insisted he pursue post-secondary education, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bell followed the advice and is graduating from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) as a four-time Dean’s List honoree.
“There are many people who are responsible for me starting and ending this journey and I want to acknowledge all of them. I am a better version of myself because of them. I am not always the most confident person, but these people have pushed me to succeed,” he stated.
Among friends, mentors and family who have been instrumental in supporting him, Bell singled out grandmother and his parents, saying: “Each of you is a treasured resource and a priceless blessing in my life. Your unwavering belief in me has been a source of strength and inspiration. So, thank you for your unconditional support and love during this auspicious journey.”
He also had high praises for UVI’s faculty and staff, including Dr. Maria Flemming, Dr. Vanda Espinosa, Ms. Michelle Albany, and Ms. Anyha Lord-Jerris, who he thanked for their “unfailing support, dedication, and commitment” to the support of all the graduates.
“I want to say a special thank you to a true champion of education, an inspiration, and a devoted faculty member of the Communications Department, Professor Dr. Sharon A. Honore. If it were not for her continued expertise and guidance, I would have missed out on some truly unique experiences, such as my participation in the University of the Virgin Islands Association of Black Journalists (UVIABJ) Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), of which I am now the proud President, recently traveling to Washington, DC to participate in the White House Pressing briefing with former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and Vice President Kamala Harris, or to Las Vegas Nevada for the annual NABJ National Conference, being a contributor to the Voice 2.0; and host and coordinator for our annual UVIABJ communication summits and film festivals,” Bell added.
His enrollment at the University coincided with UVI’s becoming the first Historically Black College & University (HBCU) to offer comprehensive free tuition to eligible students through its Free Tuition Program, which was established in 2019.
When he came to UVI, Bell had an interest in communications, but did not have a major in mind. He engaged with students in the program to get a better understanding of the field.
“Once I did that, I threw my hat in the ring to see what would happen when I got into Communications,” the Summer Bridge program graduate said. “It has been a love affair ever since.”
Observing adjunct faculty member Ms. Shayla Solomon, a former Miss U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), doing public relations work for USVI Lieutenant Governor inspired him.
“That, along with someone who started promoting events and running their own marketing/public relations business were big motivating factors that I was going into an area that I could do well in,” said Bell.
During his time at UVI, Bell participated in the Virgin Islands Department of Labor’s Labor Investing for Tomorrow (LIFT) Summer Internship Program in the Communication Department at Government House and attended the renaming of the Golden Grove Correctional Facility to the John A. Bell Correctional Facility in June 2022.
“To be part of that history was eye-opening and inspiring,” he recalled. “The other part was observing how press conferences are conducted.”
As part of the UVI Career Day entitled “Tomorrow’s Workforce Today: The Future is Now”, Equus Workforce Solutions and the UVI Office of Career Services/Student Employment, Bell had the opportunity to interview the Territory’s Governor, Albert Bryan Jr., in 2022. The interview won the Top Feature Film Award at the Caribbean Cinematic & Arts Festival in 2022.
Bell joined the UVIABJ during the pandemic and was among four executive members who attended the NABJ convention in Las Vegas in 2022.
“My involvement in the UVIABJ has shown me that Communications has many components,” he said. “There are so many careers you can access through this route. I saw individuals starting off as Communications Major who have their MBAs and are running public relations and marketing firms. I was also able to network with people in the media industry who are doing great things. Through the Association of Black Journalists, I have a more open view of what Communications can offer and where it can take you.”
Balancing academics and extracurricular activities has not been challenging for Bell who was the UVI representative at the 2022 Thurgood Marshall Fund Leadership Institute in New York City.
“I am a night owl, so if I have to work on something for school, I am clocked in at night and will do it then,” he said. “I find it easier to do my academic work at night. That is just how I am wired.”