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Three alumni tell students about ‘becoming and belonging’

Barry McNamara
Pictured from left are ILA coordinator Stephanie Baugh, Frank Clark, Regina Bannan Johnson, Carmen Alvarado and Ken Morris Jr.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Perhaps some of the first-year students who heard from a panel of three Monmouth College alumni Thursday could see an aspect of themselves in one of them. Perhaps all of them could.

That was one of the central ideas behind creating a “Becoming and Belonging” convocation for Monmouth’s “Introduction to Liberal Arts” students. Returning to campus to speak to the group were Carmen Alvarado ’02, Frank Clark ’02 and Ken Morris Jr. ’00. The event was moderated by one of their former classmates, Regina Bannan Johnson ’01, who serves as the College’s director of multicultural student services.

“How does anyone really know where they belong when they don’t even know who they are?” asked Johnson in her opening remarks.

For her, that sense of belonging came through a group of friends, including each of the returning alumni.

“These are three people who helped me change my life forever,” she said.

A former staff member at Monmouth, Morris is the director of equity at Ankeny (Iowa) Community School District. Alvarado is a supervisor at Amita Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Clark, who returned to campus for the first time in 17 years, is a board-certified adult psychiatrist at Prisma Health-Upstate in Greenville, S.C. He also serves as clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville and medical director and division chief for adult inpatient and consult-liaison services for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Prisma Health.

You’re not alone

In describing where they were in their personal journeys when they matriculated at Monmouth, Clark, Alvarado and Morris said, respectively, “confident but lost,” “not Mexican enough, not white” and “I was at Monmouth College on a hope and a prayer,” after flunking out of community college.

Clark was fairly sure of his plan for college, but there was still some doubt beneath that confidence.

“Even though I knew what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to be a statistic,” he said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was meant to be here, that I could hack it.”

Said Alvarado, “I wanted to step outside of being a kid from (the Chicago neighborhood of) Pilsen and change my worldview.”

Pivotal moments

In addition to meeting up with each other and other classmates who became close friends, the three speakers all recalled other pivotal moments during their Monmouth careers. For Morris, it was learning about himself and a gift he didn’t know he had.

“There were lots of tensions with the brothers on campus,” said Morris. “It got to the point where I felt it was a powder keg. I thought, ‘Brothers need to work it out.’ I got the word out to all the brothers and said be at the Hubbard House at this time, because we’ve got to get this right. ... A lot was revealed in that circle, and a lot of healing took place that day.

“After it was over, I thought, ‘Yo, maybe I do have a gift for being able to bring people together in a disarming fashion.”

Alvarado teared up when recalling the “safe space” that faculty members Trudi Peterson and Ken Cramer provided, driving her to a conference for gay and lesbian students.

“I thought, ‘Holy cow! There are so many gay people in this world,” she said of the conference experience. “I didn’t know I could be gay and be out to the world, and that everybody would be OK with it.”

Through his studies, athletics and involvement with music, Clark had kept himself so busy that he didn’t tend to his emotional health.

“Toward the end of my college career, all the things I had suppressed from my childhood erupted like a volcano,” he said. “I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It changed my view of things,” including his long-intended goal of becoming a pediatrician. He still kept with his plan of attending medical school but pursued psychiatry instead.

“I’ve now been in remission for nine years,” said Clark.

If they could turn back time

The alumni guests were asked what advice they would give to their younger selves. Perhaps some of the first-year students related to that advice, as well.

“I didn’t allow myself to really enjoy college,” said Morris. “I was afraid to be off my block. My advice for my younger self would be to study abroad. I didn’t understand then how affordable it could be.”

“I’d tell myself to let your voice be heard,” said Alvarado, who revealed to the students that she didn’t speak her first two weeks on campus. “It took a lot for me to learn how to be vulnerable on campus. I cheated myself out of a lot for that reason.”

Said Clark, “I’d tell myself to have self-compassion and that I don’t have to be perfect.”

Other advice offered to the students was to “know your bandwidth” with regard to student involvement, to “switch it up” and walk several paths as a student, and to “discover your passion.”