Ashley Morris is the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions and a recent graduate from the Higher Education program in the School of Education.
As I write this, I am in the flurry of finals and a particularly busy time of year with work. At times, it all seems like too much, and I struggle with why I am pursing a Master’s degree while working full-time and trying to maintain a sliver of a personal life. Moments like these present an opportunity to re-center and remind myself that it is because I believe in the power of higher education. I believe in its unique ability to open up a lifetime of possibilities for someone. I believe in its power to change, not only one life, but generations of lives. I believe in the value of being uncomfortable while pushing your own boundaries.
I believe in all these things, because I have been privileged to experience their magnitude in my own life. I am a first-generation college student who didn’t have the slightest clue about college, its process, or how to navigate those strange waters. With lots of support, many late nights, two study abroad trips, buckets of coffee, and a learned love-hate relationship with the library, I graduated summa cum laude with a double major - becoming the first woman in my family ever to do so.
This April, I will have the chance to break another family record when I become the first person in my family to obtain a Master’s degree. In that moment, it becomes about so much more than the diploma or the “M.A.” I will get to put in my email signature. It means I will be a role-model for the students I work with in my position at the university.
In my unique position, I have the opportunity to give back to others the incredible, life-altering opportunity to obtain a higher education. This Master’s program provided me with the skillset and social justice perspective I needed to make this great institution of higher education even better for those who come after me. It is undeniable that there are some major impediments to college access for the students and families of today. My duty, now, is to be a driving force of change in a system that, for all its advantage and virtue, is in need of improvement.
I will be thinking about these things as I prepare to walk across the Greek Theater stage this April - the very same stage that the first group of students I helped admit to the University will walk across later that same weekend. A whole world of possibilities is open to them, as it was to me. It doesn’t get better than that.