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On the not-so-secret identity of a student-scholar

Kara Lee Becker ’15 and her family celebrate at the reception following Winter Commencement.
Kara Lee Becker ’15 and her family celebrate at the reception following Winter Commencement.
Photo: By Rebecca Studios

Each year, the University community nominates a senior to speak on behalf of the graduating class. The speaker chosen for Winter Commencement 2015 was Kara Lee Becker '15, a candidate for a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Science: Pre-Occupational Therapy.

A first-generation college student, Becker is the second woman in her family to graduate from college. She is also the first in her family to obtain a master's degree, and is currently enrolled in St. Kate's Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy. Here is her speech in its entirety.

Like many of my fellow classmates, I have a not-so-secret, secret identity. I appear ordinary with some minor exceptions. I seem to disappear every other weekend, I couldn’t tell you what shows were on TV last night and my diet consists of Mountain Dew, coffee, and Reese’s Pieces. For the past four years, I have been a grocery-getting mother by day moonlighting as a scholar by night. If you saw me out-and-about at Target with my three little girls hanging on the cart, you probably wouldn’t think, wow, she must be learning to lead and influence at St. Catherine University! More than likely, many would assume my college years were behind me.

Throughout history, women have been told that being married with children marks the end of their personal dreams. Unlike the smart, hard-working women of previous generations, I thankfully never had to choose — as my mother and grandmothers did — between raising a family and pursuing an education. A privilege that weighs on my heart, I still feel the awe of being a scholar as our stately campus welcomes me back home every other weekend.

Being a scholar was a way to claim something for myself, an honest accomplishment that could never be revoked nor lose its value. It also was a calling. My faith in God led me to occupational therapy as a way to help people heal and live their best lives. My scholar identity feels like a secret because I am a non-traditional student. I study late into the night after most people have gone to bed, while my children were napping and sometimes in the car in between running errands. Often, I would read my textbooks with a baby on my lap. During the last four years, I went from being a mother of one daughter to a mother of three!

Perhaps you’ve had your own academic challenges in your associate, baccalaureate or graduate programs: you’re a spouse like me, or a single parent, raising children while going to school. Or you work part-time, or even full-time, while going to school. Or you are an international student trying to learn U.S. culture as you get an education.

After attending other schools, I began my education at St. Kate's in 2011 as a student in the baccalaureate program and expect to receive my master's in occupational therapy in May of 2017.

My classes at St. Kate’s have been illuminating. In Human Anatomy, I learned so much about the body after the fear of the course subsided. Who knew we had a supinator muscle and that we use it every day! In graduate school, I took Evidence Based-Practice, where I struggled with learning to document my research papers. My APA style manual is now starting to wear like a well-loved book, a good thing since I hope to use my writing in the future to help change the face of occupational therapy: I dream big!

In the baccalaureate program, my favorite course was The Reflective Woman. In this course, critical inquiry reigned supreme as I pondered what it meant to “claim an education” as a woman in this era. It was The Reflective Woman that sparked my interest in housing insecurity, a social issue close to my heart that continued to grow in other classes.

In Leadership and the Art of Persuasion, I presented to suburban youth about the stigma of homelessness and how society’s distorted perception of homelessness is often a bigger barrier than a lack of monetary resources.

The Global Search for Justice: Immigrant Experience course challenged my belief that every American is provided with the same opportunities to succeed. I learned that history remembers the successful, but has forgotten the stories of the oppressed.

These classes changed who I was and opened my eyes to the concerns of my fellow neighbors. I wanted to be part of the solution and to make their lives better. I loved moonlighting as a scholar. However, it was no longer comfortable to be limited to the safe arena of class discussions. Participating in the Evening/Weekend/Online Advisory Board inspired me to speak up and volunteer in my community. As my sphere of influence changed, so did my identity. I now consider community advocate as part of my not so secret, secret identity.

Like Batman has his Robin, we don’t get to live out our dream without some superhero help. Support from staff, faculty, students and family helped us when the obstacles of life refused to move. For everyone who is here to celebrate a graduate, thank you for supporting us through our journey — for letting us share our homework with you — and for making this day extra special with your presence.

To my exceptional classmates, whatever your identity is, know that you are part of a legacy of scholars — empowered to lead within your sphere of influence. Our identities come in unique combinations, and from here, our paths will move in different directions. Be unexpected and bold, have faith in yourself, and take what you learned during your time at St. Kate’s to create even more identities — identities that can break down barriers — identities that will ensure a legacy for future scholars and for our children, who will hopefully follow in our footsteps.

I cannot help but wonder how my daughters, who have been with me through so much of this journey, will change the world someday.

Thank you!

Jan. 14, 2016 by Kara Lee Becker '15

See also: Healthcare, Leadership, Social Justice, Students