Duke grad overcame adversity to succeed

May. 10, 2013 @ 06:45 PM

Reube Holmes, who graduates Sunday from Duke University, spent part of her freshman year in a homeless shelter with her family, but that didn’t prevent her from learning.
In fact, it helped expand her knowledge.
“Being in a shelter, I saw a lot of inequality and injustice,” Holmes, 22, said in an interview this week. “And I knew that by getting an education, I could help my community be that person to encourage someone else – that no matter their circumstances, they could make it.”
Holmes will graduate with a bachelor of arts in history and African and African-American studies.
When she was a student at Hillside High School in Durham, she thought it was a long-shot to be accepted to Duke, but she was wrong.
“I’ve always been a Duke fan,” she said. “I was born at Duke Hospital. When I was applying, I didn’t think it was possible, but Duke was really welcoming, so it got to the point where I thought: ‘Wow, I can actually go to Duke.’ ”
With a scholarship and other financial aid from Duke, she made it through all four years, although she said they were the hardest of her life.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she said. “Right now, I’m on a high because it’s done, it’s completed.”
Holmes wasn’t always riding high. Her mother and seven children were forced to spend months in a homeless shelter at Urban Ministries of Durham after she left her husband.
Those were bleak times, but the family is now out of the shelter, and doing well.
Reube’s mother, Angela Holmes, is now board secretary for Urban Ministries. One of her sons recently joined the Marines and left for Japan this week.
Angela’s world has changed – for the better – from the days as a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia. She moved to North Carolina in 1985 and has lived in Louisburg and Durham ever since.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that I have a daughter who will graduate from Duke,” she said.
Angela said she always knew Reube had the ingredients for excellence.
“She was reading ‘Gone With The Wind’ in the second grade, so I knew she had some good skills,” she said.
An important part of Reube’s education came last summer, when she studied abroad in Ghana, “immersing myself in the culture, history and language.”
She said the experience changed her life.
“As a black American, being in a culture like Ghana gave me a sense of self-pride and the ability to see myself as part of a larger history,” she said. “One thing I learned is that they have hopes and dreams about their life and for the children.”
Reube plans to take at least a year off to work, and is looking for a job. But her ultimate goal is to return to school and get a master’s degree in history, with an eye to perhaps some day running for elected office.
That’s not certain, but one thing is: She plans to make a difference.
“Duke was hard and challenging, but it definitely prepared me for any other challenges that will come my way,” she said. “I learned more about myself, and how I can change the world.”