The Liberal Studies Department is very pleased that our Outstanding Graduate for the year, Shardé Mills, also was selected to receive a University Presidential Scholar Award for 2008-2009. Shardé graduated in the spring with a B.A. Humanities degree in History of Culture. The Presidental Scholar Award is given for excellence in scholarship and for outstanding leadership in the community.
During her four years at Western Shardé assumed leadership roles in the Ethnic Students Center, and especially in MISO, the Mixed Identity Students Organization. With her permission we share excerpts from her application for the Presidential Scholar Award and an interview with her by David Curley.
Excerpts from ‘Perspective’ by Shardé Mills
From the very start of my college career I was drawn to Liberal Studies, where philosophy, English, and history all seem to merge into one. . . My introduction to new cultures through my Liberal Studies courses has taught me, more than anything how to respectfully appreciate cultures, especially those different from my own.
In learning ‘how to think,’ my senior thesis paper has played a major role. I chose to write my paper on the transition from the traditional era to modernity, as seen through the family structure in France, focusing specifically on a nineteenth century author, Honoré Balzac. No one assigned me this topic or told me what to write. . . I have been challenged to take everything I have learned in the past four years and create my own argument.
I have grown up in a diverse family, with a black father and a white mother. I embrace both sides of family and ethnicity by identifying as biracial. As such, I was immediately drawn to the Mixed Identity Student Organization (MISO). . . MISO, for the past two years, has been putting on workshops in the resident halls, which educate and encourage students to explore their own identity, while discussing and dispelling the formation of stereotypes. . . My appreciation for each individual’s viewpoint and culture, which has been fostered by my education, allows me to informatively and intellectually cultivate the same in others.
It is my goal in the future to take all I have learned at Western, from both my education and my experience with the ESC to pursue a career in administration, preferably in the arts or non-profit organizations. Not only do I have the training to cultivate cultural diversity in my community, but I have proven that I have the experience of doing so in a leadership position. . .
I believe Albert Einstein said it best when he stated, “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”
Interview, June 2009
DC: What advice would you give students?
SM: Use the resources on campus—like academic advising, and the career service center. They are gone when you graduate! Try not to make the assumption that you already know everything. And try new things out. You don’t have to stay in them.
DC: What has been a highlight of your academic life?
SM: Oh, my senior thesis paper. It’s so independent, so in depth and complicated. I’ve learned that ‘Revise, revise, revise,’ is key to having an actual thought. I feel more pressure to learn something, because writing it is all on you.
DC: What have been some of your favorite extracurricular activities?
SM: “Naked Truth.” That was a play about stereotypes, and I got to act in it, and then we [actors] all shared with the audience who we really are, compared to our roles, and it led to discussions and getting people to really talk.
DC: What are some of your favorite places in Bellingham?
SM: Boulevard Park, Mount Baker Theatre, and all the little cafes and coffee shops in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven, where you can sit and talk.
DC: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
SM: I want be doing something—to be in charge of something—in a not-for-profit organization. I hope to get a graduate degree in administration.
DC: And now you are returning to your home, Spokane? Our very best wishes for whatever comes next for you. It has been a great pleasure to know you!