As a Visitors Center tour guide and ISL world leader, Lillie Russell has welcomed hundreds of new students to UGA and showed them all the possibilities for growth and how to empower them in their next steps.
Etowah High School
Tour guide at the University of Georgia’s Visitors Center
Expected graduation: Spring 2020
Degree objective: A.B. International Affairs and A.B. Public Relations
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships: I became a tour guide at the University of Georgia’s Visitors Center during the fall of my freshman year to awaken possibility in the lives of prospective students. If my college career is a bright and beautiful tapestry, the Visitors Center is the largest and most consistent thread within it. I am forever grateful for my bosses, my co-workers and the lessons I have learned there.
Realizing the value of consistent community and mentors, I participated in a program that develops leaders in the freshman class. First-Year Forum, a part of the Student Government Association, created a space for me to grapple with issues of social justice, privilege and equality in the safety of a diverse and trusting community. I returned two years later as a peer advisor and walked alongside 15 freshmen experiencing the program (Go Yo-Yo Yellows!).
As my time at the university is coming to an end, it is a true joy to look back on these past four years with deep gratitude in my heart for how I have been molded into the person I am today.
I chose to attend UGA because …
When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to go to school out of state and carve my own path. I was accepted to my first-choice school in Texas and was excited about my future there. I decided to tour the University of Georgia just to check it off my list. My Visitors Center tour guide, Kevin, shifted things for me that day. He showed me that at UGA, I would be seen, known, celebrated and challenged. He took the time to individually speak to me about my dreams and fears about going to college. Through that two-hour tour, Kevin showed me that this place could, in fact, be my perfect home. I immediately made my decision and paid my deposit to attend UGA. That tour changed my life.
The craziest thing I’ve done is … My friends and I planned a two-month trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this past summer. It truly was a trip of connections.
We served alongside local Jordanians, assisting Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. We were Support Team counselors at a summer camp for Jordanian high schoolers. Our final weekend, we drove to Wadi Rum, where we slept in tents in the middle of the desert, and explored the ruins of Petra.
The Middle East brought my academic knowledge from being an international affairs major to life.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with … … Lin-Manuel Miranda. I admire his ability to combine historical events with creative storytelling. Hey, if I’m dreaming here, my ideal afternoon would be my mom and me having a front-row seat to the original Broadway cast performing “Hamilton” and then grabbing dinner after with Mr. Miranda.
If I knew I could not fail, I would … … be a photographer for National Geographic. I started my own photography business during my junior year of high school. Since then, I have had the honor of capturing numerous senior portrait sessions, engagements and weddings. I probably have more photos on the camera roll on my phone than anyone reading this! I am always the one in a group who is documenting the event. One of my favorite parts of photography is editing the photos I captured that day. Photographs allow you to step back into any moment and relive it.
What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it? I value people and the complexities that life brings. I believe it is imperative to truly listen to those around you and find ways to accompany them in their dreams. I have loved my roles as a tour guide and a world leader, as I was provided a space to individually look at people and empower them in their next steps.
Somewhere down the road, I might attend law school, so that I can enact change with human rights among vulnerable populations.
After graduation, I plan to … My senior year of college has looked different than I anticipated. On Aug. 7, my dad was rushed to the hospital with viral encephalitis of the brain. This caused both an acquired and traumatic brain injury (ABI and TBI). At 21 years old, I became his power of attorney and have served in this role for the past eight months. In September, my father was medically airlifted to a Veterans Affairs hospital in Virginia that specializes in brain and spinal cord injuries, where he lived until just a few weeks ago.
My father was released from the facility on Feb. 26 after 203 days of consecutively living in a hospital and medical center. During this time, I gained a crash course in medical law, patient advocacy and an understanding of the United States military — all while balancing my senior year. It has taken grit to remain strong in the face of crushing disappointment.
Recently, we all got the news that universities around the country would be suspending activities on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am filled with grief for my community and the world. Personally, I face this newfound reality already holding shattered expectations of my senior year. But I will rebuild, as will we all.
My senior year has been tumultuous and unexpected. At this time, I am unsure of what I will be doing after graduation. Experiencing an earthquake requires patience to rebuild from the rubble, and I will continue to explore my dreams while taking care of myself and my family.