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Photo - Briona May

Briona May: Forging Her Own Path

Briona May probably wasn’t born to be a Shaw Bear, but no other student on campus has made the most of their time here.

The senior from Hampton, VA currently serves as Miss Shaw University, is in the Honors College, runs for the track and cross-country teams, has been Miss Black and Gold, and served in student government. Briona added to her stellar résumé by being named Miss CIAA during the 2018 tournament in Charlotte. It was the first time a Shaw student has won the honor since the pageant was founded 14 years ago.

However, had it not been for a tenacious track and field coach and Briona’s perceptive mother, none of it would have ever happened. A week before her first year of college was set to start, Briona had never even heard of Shaw University.

“I always love to say that Shaw chose me,” says Briona.

The summer after high school, she was set to enroll at another university in Ohio on a track and field scholarship. 

“Shaw called me literally the week before I was about to move in,” says Briona. “I had paid my housing fee, met my roommate, met the team, and got my running schedule - everything.”

The calls were coming from then Shaw track coach, William Montague, and he was persistent. He quickly built a rapport with Briona’s mother, Veda, who was impressed with coach’s determination and care for her daughter. 

Briona and her mother packed up the car a week before class started and drove down to Raleigh to visit the university for the first time. Despite being skeptical at first, she soon fell in love after meeting her future teammates and exploring downtown Raleigh.

“They were so funny and down to earth, and I just felt like I was at home,” says Briona. “My coach stayed in constant contact with me. That’s not something I got from the PWI (predominately white institution) coaches. Here they really wanted me, and so the pursuit and family-oriented environment is kind of what grabbed me at first. Then I saw downtown Raleigh and that it was basically a part of Shaw. I loved that city feel.”

Veda May is a big reason why her daughter is attending Shaw, but she’s also Briona’s inspiration for her future career. Veda served as a chief paralegal in the US Navy, and Briona has long had her sights set on a law degree. Her ultimate career goal is to become United State Attorney General, a path she was inspired to pursue after seeing Loretta Lynch on TV during her sophomore year of college.

“Seeing Loretta Lynch become the first black female attorney general really ignited something in me,” says Briona. “I did some research on the job and decided it sounded wonderful. I didn’t just want to be a lawyer. I wanted to change the world.”

While Briona has law school in mind, in the meantime, she is using her platform as Miss Shaw University to raise awareness on domestic violence and sexual assault issues. She and her mother have both been victims of abuse, and she has a passion for helping others recover and grow stronger.

“My mom had conversations with me about how to come out of that situation and use it to help other people because not everybody is as strong and can really talk about it,” says Briona. “I first saw the opportunity with the Miss Black and Gold Pageant to begin that platform. We did a segment in the pageant based on sexual assault awareness month, and I just happened to be the only person that had that experience, so I felt like that was my time to really shine in that moment and show that we can do something about this issue.”

Briona says the high number of women in power at Shaw has been an inspiration to her.“I love having women in power,” she says. “I feel like it shows that we can do the job - especially in the world we live in where we are not necessarily treated equally all the time.”

Briona’s advice for prospective Shaw students?

“Shaw is a family-oriented environment, and it’s definitely the EPIC experience, but you do have to work for what you want. Shaw is a place for people who really want to strive for what they desire.”