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Miles College elects Shepherd SGA Prez

GREENSBORO–She admits that she didn’t graduate high school. She had to leave college for a year to care for an ailing grandfather. But even these obstacles haven’t kept Portia Shepherd from becoming the most prominent student at Birmingham’s historic Miles College.

Shepherd, a native of Greensboro and the daughter of Hale County Democratic Party chair Rev. Robert Shepherd, was recently elected by Miles’s student body to serve as Student Government Association President. Shepherd, who has already assumed presidential duties and will serve throughout the 2005-006 school year, says she is excited about the chance to make a difference for her school.

“Everything is wrong at Miles right now,” she says. “The SGA is supposed to be the most powerful organization on campus and instead it’s the weakest.”

Thanks to her father’s political involvement, Shepherd has grown up with a deep interest in politics and is looking forward, she says, to working with the SGA, her chosen Cabinet members, and school officials to get things done–the kind of coalition-building that drives political achievement in both student government and state government.

“We’re going to be looking at better cafeteria food, improving the registration process, and really increasing the amount of student involvement,” she says, noting that she is already scheduling meetings with cafeteria supervisors and financial aid officials. “So many things need to be changed. School is out for the summer, by my Cabinet and myself have been working through the summer to help get them done.”

Thanks to Shepherd’s success as a political-science major and her election to SGA president, she has become one of only 4,000 college and high school students nationwide invited to this weekend’s American Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington D.C. Speakers at the conference include Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Despite the international diversity of the speakers and their topics–Shepherd says Sharon is expected to discuss nuclear arms –Shepherd expects the bulk of the conference to be a big help in both her time as SGA president and after her graduation.

“The conference is going to help me learn how to lobby, and ways we can improve our SGA,” she says. “Young politicians can learn how we can change things over here in America.”

Two other highlights of Shepherd’s time in Washington will be meetings with Alabama’s Congressman Artur Davis and Senator Richard Shelby. Shepherd says it will not be the first time she will have rubbed shoulders with Shelby, however, having bumped into him at Birmingham’s Sheraton hotel while working in preparation for a recent visit from the President.

“I told him I wanted his job,” Shepherd says with a laugh. “He asked me if I was willing to work for it. I said I was, that I wanted to help the Black Belt, and not just put up signs. That’s what I want. I want Shelby’s job.”

If Shepherd does fulfill her dream of becoming a U.S. Senator, she’ll have come a long, long way to do it. She attended Greensboro East and Akron High Schools before leaving school and receiving her GED. She then continued her education at Shelton State Community College for a year before being forced to return home to Greensboro to care for a grandfather suffering from cancer. In the spring of 2003 she was able to start her career at Miles, and she’s been in the thick of things ever since. Seeing life in Birmingham, she says, has made her more determined than ever to enter politics and work for change in the area she grew up in.

“The things I saw growing up…the conditions… I know now something has to change,” she says.

“This is a stepping-stone. God is preparing me for something important. This conference is a stepping-stone–the information I’ll get there can actually affect the Black Belt area and rural Alabama. I’ll be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to build up the Black Belt.

“Growing up there,” she says, “has helped me tremendously.”