While the University of North Texas made the difficult decision to postpone commencement ceremonies, there's still plenty to celebrate in these inspiring stories of our recent CLASS graduates.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, yoga and quality time with her three dogs--Luna, Pico and Rolo is Leah Brooks-Hall's new morning routine before she dives deep into her day as a teaching fellow and classwork for her graduate courses.
"I have enjoyed developing a morning routine that front loads my day with positivity and stability," says Leah.
Double majoring in Women's and Gender Studies and Communication Studies isn't an easy task, but Leah has a wonderful support system.
She was the first graduate student to successfully compose and defend her thesis titled, "In the Near Future: Decolonial Perspectives on Subjectivity in Her and Ex Machina" in the Women's and Gender Studies program.
"Weaving together new materialism, decoloniality, and women of color feminisms, I performed a critical analysis of the relationship between humans and robots in the science fiction films Her and Ex Machina. The experience was challenging, but I had amazing support from my advisor and committee. It is easily the academic achievement I am most proud of. A few years ago, I did not expect to finish a bachelor's degree, so completing a master's thesis was extremely rewarding," she says.
Her thesis advisor Megan Morrissey, associate professor of rhetoric in the Department of Communication Studies, has had the greatest impact on Leah's experience as a scholar and person.
"Megan models empathy, integrity, patience and excellence in her scholarship and myriad roles on and off campus," says Leah. "I feel lucky to learn from her and will take so much of what she has taught me, personally and professionally, into my future endeavors. Including, but not limited to, investing in a planner to organize my time and responsibilities."
The support Leah has experienced is part of the university's DNA.
"I'm most proud of being part of an institution that offers support to students on multiple levels - caring for physical, mental and emotional health. COVID-19 has highlighted how willing UNT faculty and staff--from those helping students succeed in the online learning environment to those providing counseling sessions via Zoom--are to collaborate with students to ensure that people are staying safe, healthy and on track to succeed academically."
Leah loves that UNT is a place that people from all walks of life can come together, be who they are and start their professional journey. She participates in the Social Justice Lab, an interdisciplinary collective of scholars from various departments on campus, who meet to share research, workshop projects and work across departmental/disciplinary lines to accomplish social activism through scholarship and community building.
"The university creates an environment that provides resources for queer folks to be seen and supported. As a queer student and instructor, I have gained a great deal of confidence in my identity during my time at UNT and I work hard to provide that same support for the students I have the privilege of instructing," says Leah.
Leah's graduating in August with her master's in Women's in Gender Studies and in Spring 2021, she'll also complete her master of science in Communication Studies with hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Communication Studies. Her dream is to become a communication studies professor with a focus on rhetoric and critical/cultural studies.
"I'm still looking into options in terms of where I hope to pursue a doctorate. McGill University in Montreal offers a Ph.D. in Communication Studies: Gender and Women's Studies which brings together all of my academic interests, it is certainly at the top of the list," she says.
To incoming students, she says, "don't worry about being friends with everyone you meet. Invest energy in relationships that are life-giving, supportive and create space for you to be your most authentic self. Develop relationships with your professors. It is so worthwhile and adds depth to the academic experience."
See all of UNT's Spring 2020 Great Grads here.