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Extraordinary Leader: Student Finds Success through Adversity

Posted on December 4, 2012.


The Office of Student Life presents the Extraordinary Leader award to outstanding students each month. The entire HPU community – students, faculty and staff, make nominations, and the nominees are asked to complete an online survey about their academic, social and charitable involvement on campus and in the community. A committee of HPU administrators selects the students who embody true leadership.

The road to success has not been an easy one for the November Extraordinary Leader Mikhaela Ackerman. She holds many titles on campus and is committed to impacting the lives of her fellow classmates, as well as the future students of the High Point University. However, at the age of five, Ackerman was diagnosed with autism. Doctors expected that she would not be able to tie her shoe, let alone attend college. Yet here she is, finishing her senior year at High Point University and preparing to go to law school.

“High Point University has helped me to not only grow as a person, but to continue to overcome any obstacle. It has taught me that your current circumstances do not define the person you can become, as Dr. Qubein taught in our Freshman Seminar,” says Ackerman.

Growing up, Ackerman had a supportive family who believed in her ability to succeed. She went through intensive therapy and has since been able to control her symptoms. Although autism will continue to be a challenge, it is something she would never change.

“It gives me a unique perspective on the world, a way of thinking and problem solving that I treasure. It is a part of who I am. I now embrace my past instead of fearing it. HPU has been instrumental in helping me learn how I can use both my strengths and weaknesses to create lasting change. Most importantly, it has given me the confidence I need not only to succeed in the working world, but also, to no longer be afraid of letting people know who I am.”

She has been given the opportunity by many people to show that she is more than a diagnosis. The faculty and staff at HPU have viewed her as a whole person and enabled her to succeed.

“I was drawn to the campus’ close community of students and faculty where I saw in my own education that I could benefit greatly from the knowledge and opportunities that these relationships provided me,” said Ackerman. “I also knew this was a place where I could actively contribute to and make a difference. I have been able to conduct research, get involved in leadership and completely immerse myself in the campus culture.”

Due to the people in her life who have believed in her, Ackerman is now undoubtedly committed to believing in others, holding positions on campus where she can empower her classmates.  She is attorney general, the president of Politics Club, vice president of Phi Alpha Delta, vice president of operations for Odyssey Club, and a student supervisor and interviewer for the Survey Research Center, home of the HPU Poll.

“No matter what I have done on this campus, we all work together as a whole and we are all leaders. At the end of the day we are one school, and one success means High Point shines. That to me means more than any individual accomplishment I might make.”

As attorney general, Ackerman is the face of conduct and integrity for the university. She has been charged with upholding standards in her daily life and setting the bar high for her fellow classmates, and she has strived to make student court a learning experience for students to make the community better. It is this role that has led to Ackerman’s decision to attend law school after graduation.

Ackerman knows the importance of programs and resources for autistic children that are not covered by insurance. After law school, she hopes to work for groups such as Autism Speaks to continue to provide those resources to a growing autistic population.

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