DECATUR, Ill. – As Kayla Green ’23 took the stage at Kirkland Fine Arts Center during the 2023 Millikin University Winter Commencement Ceremony in December, the moment was the culmination of three and a half busy years.
Green delivered the student address at the ceremony before earning three College of Arts and Sciences Bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice, Sociology and Philosophy (with an emphasis in Pre-Law). While Green’s academic and extracurricular schedule has been filled during her time at Millikin, her message to her fellow graduates was to enjoy this moment.
“My speech was titled ‘More to Come,’ and I wanted to encourage and uplift my peers and let them know that Millikin will always be there to support them. I wanted to let them know that I was proud of their accomplishment, and we couldn’t have done all this without the university and the resources here,” Kayla said. “My message was to take a deep breath at this important moment. Everyone is always asking you about what is next, and there will always be more to come, but bask in where you are right now, enjoy this space, and embrace the transition.”
Kayla’s transition from her home in Chicago to Millikin following high school centered around the resilience of Millikin Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Andrew Craycraft. He was determined to recruit Green, a state-qualifying high jumper, and kept blowing up her phone.
“The transition from high school to college was kind of scary for me. I felt like I hadn’t done enough in high school, so I was worried when applying to schools. But I had this track coach calling me daily, so I finally picked up the phone and spoke to Coach Craycraft,” Kayla said. “He sold me on the program and the idea of family. I spoke to some of the athletes here, and it was important to me to transition to a team that emulated a family because I was accustomed to that at my high school.”
Kayla began her studies as a Criminal Justice major with a Sociology minor, but as she got a taste of the curriculum and found a love for her classes, she kept adding more to her plate with some help from her advisors.
“I don’t think anyone has ever done the degree program the way I did it, and it was hard to navigate initially,” Kayla said. “But my advisors ensured I would be out of here on time, and it was actually early for me. Three majors in three and a half years.”
Along with finding success in her studies, Kayla jumped into leadership positions in many extracurricular groups on campus. She became the president of the Kappa Zeta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., as well as the president of the Social Action Club. She also became a captain on the Track and Field team and helped new Millikin students get accustomed to campus as an EDGE Program mentor.
“I think people saw something in me, but I didn’t believe in myself then. I had to tap into that potential that they saw,” Kayla said. "When I stepped into college, I felt that I finally knew myself, and it was easier to find more things to be passionate about. Once I find something to be passionate about, I completely throw myself in, and I am ready to go."
Kayla's goal of her studies was to prepare her for the challenge of law school, and for a Performance Learning internship, she worked for the Macon County Sheriff's Office for several semesters.
“I worked as an Expungement Specialist and helped expunge some things from people’s criminal records and seal certain information. I get to help make many life-changing decisions,” Kayla said. “I’ve made some great connections there, and it was so rewarding. I am so thankful to be able to do it and help give someone a chance to have more opportunities.”
As Kayla prepares to enter law school in the fall and eventually begin a career in law, the Performance Learning experience has also reinforced the importance of social justice and criminal justice reform in her life.
“The criminal justice system has greatly affected my family. A lot of the males in my life have been incarcerated, unfortunately. I understand that once those labels are put on you, it is a lot harder to pursue a lot of different avenues,” Kayla said. “I wanted to be the change in that and do more. I’ve seen my brother and nephews lose friends in their lives, so I felt that I had a responsibility to my community. It is very personal for me, and I don’t want anyone else to experience that.”
With graduation behind her, Kayla is thankful for her Millikin experience and recommends that her fellow students grab hold of their time at Millikin and get the most out of it.
“I tell my mentees about my Millikin experience that it will be what you make it. What are you here for, and what are you going to do? A big thing for me was that I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to have fun. I was able to do all of that, and I think Millikin offers many opportunities to do that,” Kayla said. “I was able to create what I wanted to do here, and I urge everyone to do the same. Millikin is willing to support and allow you to pursue different paths. They have been super supportive of my path from start to finish. I have had a great time here.”