Abigail Harris

News & Features

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Abigail Harris was a Distinguished Student Speaker at the Graduate Recognition Ceremony of Fall 2013. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA from the Master of Arts in English Literature program. Abigail has presented on a panel at the DePaul Graduate Student Conference, participated in a Research Symposium, and composed a thesis on nineteenth-century women writers and feminist recovery work. The fragments of her speech follow.

"I come from a family of teachers and educators, of people who like to read. Because of the environment in which I was raised, nobody was particularly surprised when I began voicing an interest in becoming a teacher. The real question was, what would I teach? I decided that if English was what I wanted, it would be worth it even if it didn't lead anywhere. Having made up my mind, I wandered from campus to campus taking litmus tests: What does the school have to offer? Could I fit in here? Who would I be working with? And, most importantly, would this school help me grow, or put me in a box? After countless meetings with faculty and students at other campuses, I came to the conclusion that graduate school would be a long and constant struggle to prove myself worthy.

I'd love to say I have a great story about how I got to NEIU, but, honestly, I stumbled across Northeastern almost by accident. The very first person I met was Dr. Ryan Poll, who would become my advisor. Ryan was so welcoming and so enthusiastic about his work and his students that I decided right then that Northeastern was my first choice. Knowing that I would be working with someone like Ryan changed the way I saw myself as a student. He gave me a tremendous feeling of excitement about my own potential. I no longer felt like graduate school would be difficult phase of life spent living in a library corral for a few years, but a way I could dramatically change the landscape of my mind and my skills. 

The impression Ryan presented of Northeastern turned out to be true. I've learned so much in the past two years that I sometimes feel like a completely different person. I'm no longer so unsure of myself or disconnected from what I want out of life.  I've made wonderful friends, and perhaps over-participated in the academic community here. I presented my paper "Here and There: Redefining Nature in American Ecofiction from Emerson to Yamashita" at the Global Ecologies Graduate Student Conference; partnered with my good friend Rebecca Wiltberger in the 2013 NEIU Student Symposium to discuss our thesis research and our efforts to recover Elizabeth Oakes-Smith; I teamed up with three of my friends to generate a panel on superheroes and the post-postmodern for "Beyond the Margins," a graduate student conference at DePaul University; I was invited by my thesis advisor to participate in archival research of Elizabeth Oakes-Smith in Portland, ME and finally I have been stretched to my very limits by my massive and oftentimes ill-behaved thesis. 

I know that my experiences as a graduate student at Northeastern are not unique. Every single one of my classmates has had equally inspiring experiences at this school. The community created by faculty and students at Northeastern is inspiring, passionate, and driven, and I truly believe that I will never be surrounded by so many like-minded and lovely people again. 

Developing collaborative relationships with my classmates and professors has made me see academia not as an exercise in isolation but a way to connect with other scholars and with the world. My ideas and projects are not simply for class or for me, but for others as well. Feeling as though what I do is important and of interest to others has hugely increased my commitment to the field of English and my aspirations to teach. Thank you to everyone at Northeastern, but especially to Tim Scherman, Ryan Poll, Tim Libretti, and all of the professors I have interacted with throughout my time at Northeastern. I will miss all of you terribly."