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Class of 2021: Mikayla Lee

Mikayla Lee looks forward to walking back into a high school English classroom in Howard County (Md.) public schools to share with her students her passion for reading and writing. During her years on the Hill, she was a regular contributor to McDaniel’s Contrast Literary Magazine, a peer tutor in the Writing Center, a peer mentor for first-year students, a member of the advisory board for the Peer Mentor program, a member of Black Student Union, and a two-time intramural basketball champion.

Mikayla Lee

Mikayla Lee is an English and Secondary Education double major from Columbia, Maryland.

When I took my first step on the Hill, I was: Unsure of who I was and who I wanted to be. I was lacking in role models and a sense of identity.

The me who will ring the Old Main bell on Commencement Day is:  Slightly less unsure of who I am and who I want to be, but I am very much okay with that. I have realized that many people only want to identify themselves so that society understands them. I no longer feel the need to be understood by others, as long as I understand myself. I am confident in saying that I am in a constant state of growth and evolution, and I am the only one who could ever fully understand that.

Real world experiences: I have had multiple internship experiences with Howard County public schools, and I very much enjoyed being able to return to the community that raised me and contribute to the education of the students there today. However, my favorite internship experience was at the Auburn School in Silver Spring, Maryland. I worked with kindergarten students dealing with a wide range of Autism Spectrum Disorder and other cognitive and/or developmental disorders. This experience gave me patience and empathy beyond what I ever thought I could accomplish, and I am absolutely certain that my students made me a better person.

Aha moment: Many of my “aha moments” came from me underestimating my ability and then proving myself wrong. This happened when I was writing a final paper about “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman while simultaneously recovering from a leave of absence due to mental health concerns. I was wary of my ability to write about the topic of mental illness while struggling with it so much in my personal life, but I completely surprised myself when I finally finished the paper and had an analysis of the text that resonated with me so deeply. This reaffirmed my passion for literature and its ability to capture the human experience.

Footprints I’m leaving on the Hill: My biggest hope for my legacy at McDaniel College is that I shared a unique perspective with all the students, professors, mentors, and colleagues that I have connected with over the past four years. I hope to encourage others to live in their truth, celebrate their experiences, and share their perspectives. Your individual point of view is a gift that only you can offer the world, and that in itself is an accomplishment that we should all take pride in.

Professor who most influenced who I have become: Dr. Becky Carpenter, who taught a variety of my classes, had a tremendous influence on my growth as an individual. Simply her essence was a constant reminder that I should always do what makes me feel good, regardless of other people’s judgment. She gave me the encouragement I needed to step into myself. I highly encourage all underclassmen to take at least one class with her.

My mentor. For life.: Hands down, Vanessa Flora-Nakoski, the director of the Writing Center. She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters throughout even the most challenging times at McDaniel, and there is not a doubt in my mind that she will continue to support me from a distance in the coming years.

Best class ever: Writing in the English Discipline with Dr. Robert Kachur in Spring of 2020. The class both challenged and motivated me to reach new depths of literary analysis and showed me the large-scale cultural impact that a simple interpretation can offer the world.

Took me totally by surprise: To say COVID-19 took me by surprise would be an understatement, but the resilience demonstrated by the student body to remain connected and involved throughout the pandemic was such a pleasant surprise to me.

My favorite spot on campus: My favorite spot on campus is the lawn chairs in Red Square. It was my favorite thing in the world to grab a coffee from Casey’s Corner and sit in Red Square, reading a book and saying “hi” to all the people walking across campus on a sunny day.

Most mind-boggling idea I learned at McDaniel: That grammar is a manmade social construct with implicit biases and that there is no one “correct” way to write or speak.

My capstone: My capstone was titled “People Love Prison: A Discussion of ‘Orange is the New Black’ and the Prison Curiosity Complex.”

What it’s about: I explored both the novel and Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” and discussed the writers’ ignorance and lack of sensitivity towards the oppressed populations represented in the series (incarcerated women, queer women, Black and Hispanic women). I also identified and defined society’s intense curiosity about the United States prison population as it relates to capitalism and The American Dream.

What’s next: For the next three years, I will be working as a high school English teacher in Howard County, Maryland. I am really looking forward to sharing my excitement and passion for reading and writing with my students.

About Mikayla

Name: Mikayla Lee

Major: English and Education

Class of 2021