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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird: epitome of Guilford’s values

(Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird)
(Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird)

“I’m extremely self-conscious about my laugh, but that’s how most people know who I am,” Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird says. “They may not know my name, but they know my laugh – usually they’ve heard it in the caf, if nowhere else.” “Her laugh is distinctive, and infectious,” says Anne Glenn, Elizabeth’s advisor for her health sciences major. “It makes people join in.”

“Everyone recognizes her laugh,” says Desiree Wilkinson, a recent Guilford graduate who works with her in Project Community.

Bird, as she’s most commonly known, is also known for a lot of other things: her nickname, for one; her sunny disposition, for another; and her commitment to social justice for a third.

“My family calls me lots of things-Dizzy Lizzy, Liz, Lizbeth. My mom calls me Lizard Breath,” she explains. She’s named after her grandmother and her mother, both also named Terrell Elizabeth, and has always been some derivative of Elizabeth to her family.

The nickname “Bird” came from her English teacher her senior year of high school in Athens, Georgia.

“There are a million other Elizabeths out there. One day I was walking down the hall and my teacher was trying to get my attention. He yelled ‘Bird,’ and it’s stuck since then.”

The nickname became popular on Guilford campus when, during her Avanti in 2001, she was asked to reveal a nickname she sometimes used. “Before then, everyone called me ‘Spam,’ because of a t-shirt I like to wear. I like ‘Bird’ better,” she says.

“I like it,” she continues on the name. “But I think I’m growing out of it. I’ll probably start going by Elizabeth once I graduate. It’s more professional.”

Then she laughs the laugh that she’s so well known for.

“Bird is just really, really happy,” says Glenn. “No matter what’s happening, she has a really good, positive outlook on the world.”

Bird, who is a Bonner scholar and also Sociology and Anthropology major, has volunteered for 4 years with the African Services Coalition, three semesters as the project coordinator.

During her years at Guilford, Bird has volunteered with the YWCA teen mothers program, at a battered women’s shelter in Athens, on a Crow reservation through the Bonner program, and at City Hall in Westminster, England, when she studied abroad in London in 2003. She also served as the project coordinator for Project Community one summer.

“If I had unlimited funds, I’d provide more programs, support, and services for refugees,” she says. “A lot of these people are experiencing trauma, and then they get here.

“I’d also do things to help with educating cultural sensitivity, which is not having the idea that the culture you came from is the right one, or the one that’s supposed to be mainstream.”

“It’s basically understanding that you shouldn’t try to change people to fit your culture. It’s the opposite of ethnocentricity.”

This is something that Bird says she’s picked up especially during her current internship with the Triad Health Project.

“I want to go and get my Master’s in public health,” she says. Bird has been accepted into the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master’s program at the School of Public Health, and is waiting to hear from UNC Chapel Hill.

“I’m frustrated with their lack of communication,” she says. “It’s a really good school, and I really like North Carolina, and want to stay here.

“I’m thinking about going into disease prevention and awareness, especially of STDs,” she says when asked what she plans to do when she receives her post-graduate degree. “But I may change my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about anorexia and bulimia, and how eating disorders are not really discussed a lot. Especially with Terri Schiavo-everyone talks about the removal of the feeding tube without talking about what put her in the hospital in the first place.

“I have a friend at home with an eating disorder,” she continues. “She’s still in high school, and I see her and her friends, and they all look like these porcelain dolls. It’s no longer who you are, but what you look like.”

“Bird’s really, really sincere,” says Wilkinson. “She’ll tell you the truth, even if it hurts. It’s kind of like a type of surgery, if you can go in and make that cut, hurt them in ways that are kind of necessary, and then stitch up the wound so it doesn’t cause any more problems. I love her.”

“Bird has the ability to connect with people, and the ability to make them laugh,” said Glenn.

Come May 7, in addition to her laugh and sunny disposition, Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird will also be known as the traditional student commencement speaker. Bird and Will Hall will speak alongside Mel Bringle to the graduating class.

“I’m really nervous, actually,” Bird says. “But it makes me happy. Knowing that I was chosen made me feel a lot of love from people. It gives me confidence in myself, and sometimes I don’t have a lot of that. I’m just going to visualize everyone on the toilet while I speak.”

While visualizing everyone in the audience on the john, Bird will be speaking about something that’s become important to her recently – in a message she thinks it’s important for people to hear.

“I’m going to talk about love,” she said. “The diversity of love, the different kinds of love. Love that can give everyone positive energy.”

“People can put love into everything they do: when they’re driving, when they’re at the grocery store. Just one smile from a stranger can brighten someone’s day,” she continues.

“Even when you feel there’s no one out there that loves you, there’s someone that does.”

May 7 is important for Terrell Elizabeth Balof-Bird for another reason – it’s her 22nd birthday.

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