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 sound of fingers tapping on a keyboard, the hissing steam wand and the enticing aroma of fresh coffee in the air are memories Nikki Lyssy will cherish. As a creative writing major, her favorite locations to write -- Café G.A.B, West Oak and Aura Coffee -- are typically coffee shops.
"As a writer, I am always looking for community and coffee, and there is no shortage of both at UNT. Everyone at the GAB knew my name and order before I ever told them what I wanted. I am forever grateful for their kindness and for the constant supply of caramel lattes and marshmallow mochas that got me through long study sessions, writer's block and everything in between," says Nikki.
The Austin-native's journey to UNT isn't a typical story. When Nikki was a junior in high school, she won the Barbara Jordan Media Award for a newspaper column. "I penned on my first and only experience parasailing as a person who is blind." The award ceremony was held at UNT in March 2014. Nikki and her mom made the four-hour trek from Austin to Denton, a town she had never even heard of.
"When I began applying for colleges a year later, I knew UNT was my top choice. And when I got in, I knew I'd found my place," says Nikki.
During her freshman year, learning the campus layout was the biggest challenge Nikki had to overcome.
"It took me about a year to fully learn where all the buildings were in relation to other buildings, and even after that, there were still times I found it a bit confusing," says Nikki.
One of the funniest moments she experienced was when she accidentally sat in on an algebra class instead of her short story course. "It was a case of mistaken room identity; I thought I had walked into 205, when really I walked into 204," says Nikki. She wondered why her classmates were discussing math problems instead of short stories and books.
"I figured they were only talking about another class. When the professor walked in was when I realized I might in the wrong class. I scurried out as fast as I could to slide into my short story class. I am forever grateful to the guy who told me I was in the wrong room."
Despite the challenges Nikki faced during her time at UNT, she is a stand-out student. She recently earned the Outstanding Undergraduate English award, is a Mary Patchell Memorial Scholarship recipient and has made the Dean's List since 2016. With multiple essays published -- "On Blindness and the Teaching of Form", "An Interview: Hillary Stringer" and "This is What (Real) Freedom Is" -- her career as a writer is just beginning.
Nikki has made an everlasting impression on the people she meets and she is beloved by her classmates and professors. "In 19 years of college teaching, I have never had a student give more to a course than Nikki Lyssy gave to my Shakespeare class," says Jeffrey Doty, associate professor in the English Department.
"I've never met anyone like her, the way she surges into a room ready to learn or talk or ask about someone's day. She has a contagious appreciation and joy for life, for people, for fuzzy sweaters, cowboy boots and pink Starburst," says non-fiction associate professor Jill Talbot.
Nikki wasn't alone when she arrived at UNT. Her twin sister Kendal, a communication studies major, is also a soon-to-be grad. Although they always had different classes and opposite schedules, they loved to share stories from their day each evening. "Having Kendal on campus and living with her for the past five years was an amazing experience that I will always cherish. There is nothing like sharing the college ride with someone who knows me better than anyone, going through the good times and the bad times and everything in between."
Nikki will continue her education at the University of South Florida where she will pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction.
"I hope to publish a memoir and to become a creative writing professor. I have always loved to write and UNT has given me amazing opportunities to hone my craft."
Nikki's advice to others? "Both of my parents have offered great advice-- words I really live by. My mom reminds me that everything that happens in life happens the way it is meant to, and that we should live in the present. My dad tells me to try new things and when I fail, to try again until I succeed. 'Just be sure to give it your best shot.'"
Check out all of UNT's Spring 2020 Great Grads here.