P R E L U D E
In the early spring, graduating Emory College senior Hannah McLaughlin, an English and creative writing major from Yoder, Colorado, wrote the following letter to President William M. Chace. McLaughlin will pursue graduate work in medieval studies at the University of York in Great Britain next year on a Rotary fellowship. She also received Emory's 1997 Lucius Lamar McMullan Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership and citizenship in a graduating senior. The award is accompanied by a $20,000 gift that McLaughlin may use at her discretion.
Dear President Chace,
. . . Although we have never met, I feel that it is important for me to write to you before I leave, because I feel that I have an unusual perspective on what it means to be an Emory graduate, and I would like to share it with you. . . . I believe the education I have received at Emory to be of the greatest importance in my life, but in order for you to understand just how much this opportunity has meant to me, I would like to tell you about my past, and the upbringing which has led me to value my learning so highly. . . .
I have had few of the advantages of many of the students here. My family has always struggled economically, although both of my parents have jobs, and my father often works sixty to eighty hours a week as a truck driver and mechanic. At various times in my life, I have been a patient at low-cost health-care clinics for the uninsured and the recipient of free school lunches and donated school clothes for the poor. . . . [My parents] believed that our hardships were temporary and our success certain. Nothing happens in this world without hard work, they said, and everybody has a chance. I took their words to heart, and at fourteen, I took a job waiting tables in the summer and kept it for six years, paying for braces, car, computer, and what the University requested to supplement the scholarships and grants it awarded me. . . .
My upbringing taught me the merit of hard work, and more importantly, the value of my education. I knew early on that getting an education was the only way I would ever do better than my parents had done, and I also knew that learning meant power. I love my parents, but I have long understood that no one would care what they had suffered, and nothing would ever change for people like us unless we received the education and developed the public voice to make it happen. . . .
I am now a senior with a 3.93 grade point average and the recipient of several merit scholarships. I made Phi Beta Kappa this year, as well as Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, and I have been the editor of the Lullwater Review, Emory's national literary magazine. . . . I am a member of the Stipe Society for Creative Scholars and the Emory Women's Center Advisory Board, as well as being manager of a campus computer lab and a peer tutor for the Writing Center. . . .
In the future, my goals are to write and teach at the university level. I hope my academic writing will stand as a testament to the intellectual distances a person of my background can travel. I also hope that as a professor I will be a special help to students from backgrounds similar to my own, who may have trouble adjusting to the college environment. My non-academic writing deals with issues of class and struggle indirectly, and I hope powerfully, but I would like to be a proponent for change in other ways as well. . . . I intend to work in the capacity I know best, as a writer and essayist, informing and shaping public opinion.
I am fortunate to have received my education, but I know that I could not have come so far without the help of Emory's phenomenal faculty. Here, I found a supportive environment in which my professors took a personal interest in my progress and were always willing to talk with me and help with any difficulty. . . .
I have a working-class background, but I wanted a world-class education, and I believe that at Emory I have received it. I hope you will view Emory's generous support of my study as I do: a sound investment in a determined student who will make you proud. I also hope you will remember how much these efforts mean to people like myself, and that you will continue to help other deserving students to achieve their best. This spring, when my parents see me cross that stage to get my diploma, I will not only be receiving a degree for myself but for my family as well. I am their proof that their faith and hope and hard work have paid off, that whatever our limitations were at the outset, we have what it takes to overcome them. On behalf of all the other Emory students who have crossed that platform with just such a dual victory in mind, I say, thank you.
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