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Purposeful Learning

Commencement speaker bounces back, now helps others

As she struggled with her mental health, Ilina Monteiro, ’24, questioned whether she would ever attend college, never mind one day represent her class as the student commencement speaker.

In high school, Ilina attempted suicide and accumulated so many absences that she barely graduated. College seemed impossible – until Bridgewater State welcomed her.

“Getting into BSU not only signified a new journey for me, but it also signified the beginning of a life I’ve always envisioned,” Ilina said. “It signified becoming a new me and having something to look forward to.”

This weekend, Ilina will address her classmates from the commencement stage just before receiving a bachelor’s degree in social work. The student speaker for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences ceremony, Ilina will share her story as a hopeful message of perseverance.

“I didn’t think I could make it to college, and here I am graduating,” she said. “You can do it.”

A native of Cabo Verde currently living in Taunton, Ilina immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 8 years old. She didn’t know a single word of English – not even how to say, “Hi.”

Ilina now speaks English fluently thanks to school lessons and watching children’s television shows (her favorites included Curious George and Caillou). At BSU, she minored in teaching English to speakers of other languages and taught youngsters English during a study tour to the Dominican Republic.

She also appreciates the compassionate support of social work professors such as Drs. Leslie Sattler and Jibril Solomon.

“They worked with me through my mental health journey,” Ilina said. “They were my rock. Every time I came into their classes, I felt supported.”

Solomon is impressed by her resilience. Even amid personal challenges, Ilina always had a plan to keep her academics on track, said Solomon, who taught her in several classes.

She brings a strong understanding of social and racial justice issues and a wealth of personal experience to her profession, he said.

“Being a social worker is not just a career for her,” Solomon said. “It’s her way of contributing to her community and being a difference maker.”

She’s already doing that through her job at the Old Colony YMCA’s Brockton branch. She supports and mentors children who are in the foster care system or facing their own mental health challenges.

Ilina will soon pursue a master’s degree in social work from Bridgewater. She hopes to one day bring mental health services to Cabo Verde, where she said people too often suffer in silence.

“BSU gave me a calling to help people who have been through similar struggles as I have,” she said. “BSU gave me a purpose.”

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