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Advocacy through storytelling

Graduating ASU student Gary Walker-Roberts combines English, digital skills

Gary Walker-Roberts / Courtesy photo

Graduating master's student Gary Walker-Roberts, seen here on his wedding day to his husband in Hawaii on June 27, 2015, was recently appointed to the Contra Costa (California) Community College Board. He is the first openly LGBTQ person to serve on the board, where he hopes to advocate for “under-represented minority students’ needs and also continue to develop the Veterans Resource Centers throughout the district.”

December 08, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

As a returning college student in an Arizona State University online “Digital Literacies” course, Gary Walker-Roberts admitted that he was “not good at technology.” Even the word “technology” scared him.

Despite his initial reluctance and busy schedule — Walker-Roberts worked full-time as an account executive and volunteered for LGBTQIA causes while in enrolled at ASU — he embraced the new challenge and his course of study. He credits course instructor Bruce Matsunaga with helping him overcome his digital fears.

Walker-Roberts will graduate from ASU’s online Master of Arts in English in program, saying that he no longer feels overwhelmed when facing a technological challenge. In fact, he has applied his new digital skills to an online LGBTQ public awareness campaign that he launched as part of his final applied project. Trans Visibility has already been used as a resource in LGBT Studies courses at Los Medanos College, where Walker-Roberts earned associate degrees and where he is still connected through outreach organizations.

Walker-Roberts, who lives in Antioch, California, was recently appointed to the Contra Costa Community College Board. He is the first openly LGBTQ person to serve on the board, where he hopes to advocate for “under-represented minority students’ needs and also continue to develop the Veterans Resource Centers throughout the district.” The appointment moves him one step closer to his goal of a career in community college teaching.

As he prepares for graduation day, we caught up with Walker-Roberts to ask a few questions.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: My "aha" moment was when my mentor, Dr. Laurie Huffman [of the California Community College System], told me that I would be more hirable in the community college system if I had a master’s in English, math or science from a university that has both a sound accreditation and reputation. She suggested Arizona State University for their reputation of online programs. I am a great storyteller and a good writer, so I chose English and have been happy with my choice ever since.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I learned at ASU that you can overcome self-doubt! I doubted that I was talented enough to obtain a degree in English! My inner voice told when I first began the degree, "You cannot do this. What are you thinking?" However, with the support of my husband, amazing professors, and the ASU English department, I successfully completed the program.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its reputation! Moreover, they are one of the only universities that is accessible to students outside of the Tempe area. They are one of the only universities in the United States that offers a rigorous and reputable English master's program online. I am so happy that I chose ASU, but in reality ASU chose me!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best piece of advice that I would give to those still at the university would be to constantly look in the mirror, smile, and state out loud, "I will do this! I have what it takes to complete this degree!" In addition, I would encourage them to buy the degree frame from the bookstore, hang it on their wall and when that feeling of panic, giving up, or frustration sets in (finals week), look at the empty frame and remember that soon you'll have that degree on the wall and on your resume! Lastly, I would advise them that it's OK to take some personal "me" time and relax. Don't feel guilty if you need to take an entire day and rest in bed, or take off for two or three days for a mini escape. Clear your mind and return fresh and hit the books hard!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: $40 million is a random number, but I would try to tackle LGBTQIA education around the world. There is a lot of work to do in our world to end years of institutionalized LGBTQIA bigotry that leads to violence on all levels: hate crimes, internalized bigotry, suicide, murder and criminalization in our own country and abroad. LGBTQIA were once respected and occupied a special place in human society that gave them equality resulted in thriving in the world safely. Sadly, that is not the case today in our world, but with that money our communities megaphone would get much bigger and we could reach around the globe faster and harder. One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret J. Wheatley: "You can't hate someone whose story you know."

The Department of English is an academic unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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