Hi! My name is Aaliyah McNeill (my middle name is seven letters too!)

My story begins in beautiful, suburban Charlotte, North Carolina. As a little girl, I loved the duality of being able to reimagine Bridge to Terabithia scenes in the forest beside my house and then riding into the city and marveling at buildings that stretched to the heavens. Much of this duality characterizes who I have grown to be. Although I am an introvert who cherishes a good read and the warmth of my favorite blanket, my career interests veer toward languages and cultures of international proportions.

From middle school onward, language and culture burrowed a place within my heart. I requested French classes in grade six, with the youthful hope that they would bring me closer to knowing Italian and finding my soulmate in the city of love. Instead, I found myself captivated by the nuances and parallels between French and my native tongue. In grade eight, I built the richest, most fulfilling group of friends I have known. We were Korean, Filipino, Bengali, Antiguan, Caucasian, and African American. Not a day passed which wasn't filled with both laughter and insight. Between trying seaweed and sticky rice for the first time and learning about the idiosyncrasies of each other's hair, this family unknowingly taught me more about cultural cognizance than any seminar ever could. This bond left a yearning to continually diversify my cultural understanding and experiences.

At Duke, this has translated into taking a Russian course and joining the American Sign Language Club. I intend to major in International Comparative Studies and put my passion to use living among and in service to the people of these countries. When I am not in class or in meetings, I am most likely spending time with my eight best friends in GADU, laughing in the Mary Lou Williams Center, singing, reading, or petting Nugget.

Back home, I am the youngest of four. Much of my propensity to dream big and seek continual growth comes from my family. From a mother who was the first Belcher female to finish college to a father who went from farm life to a health care professional, I have endless examples of persistence surmounting the improbable. Finally winning against my siblings in board games and races after years of being the underdog helped, too. They have all instilled in me that what matters most in life is that when you do something, it is to the absolute best of your​ ability-- even if that means you failed. It has allowed me to live with the focus of setting and surmounting my own goals, rather than by the standards of others.

I am absolutely thrilled to have found yet another family to expand my worldview and teach me invaluable lessons that I could not find in a classroom. Despite the short time that I have known the Baldwin Scholars, I am positive that the love and power of these women will be a cornerstone of my Duke experience.

“If you say you can or you can’t you are right either way.” Henry Ford