Ahead of ceremony, Midyear Completion speakers urge others to extend empathy, commit to community
Brown’s annual Midyear Completion Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 2, will celebrate the achievements and unique paths of “.5ers,” who complete their degree requirements this month.
Brown seniors Katie Haley, left, and Arden Reynolds will deliver separate remarks at Brown's Midyear Completion Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 2. Photos by Nick Dentamaro/Brown University
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — You can do everything — you just can’t do it all at once.
That is advice that senior Arden Reynolds received from one of her mentors at Brown, and she hasn’t stopped thinking about it since. It also rings true for fellow senior Katie Haley, who said she might add, “You can’t do it alone, either.”
Reynolds and Haley are among 196 “.5ers” who will complete Brown undergraduate degree requirements in December and be honored at the annual Midyear Completion Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 2. The two will offer student reflections at the ceremony, presided over by Dean of the College Rashid Zia and featuring performances by the Brown Band and the Chattertocks, a student a cappella group.
Reasons for finishing studies midyear vary widely. Some students arrive at Brown as transfers from other institutions. Some take a reduced course load to free up time to intern, volunteer or work. Others leave to travel or pursue creative projects. Sometimes, academic or medical issues motivate a leave.
Though their stories are different, Haley and Reynolds have plenty in common, both driven to advance the common good by encouraging dialogue and building community.
Arden Reynolds: Conversation and community as care
Out to lunch on Thayer Street in Providence during Brown’s move-in day in 2018, Reynolds and her parents struck up a conversation with someone at a table nearby; he had ordered the same dish as Reynolds’ dad and wanted to praise the choice. They learned that the person earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown before completing his graduate studies in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — where Reynolds’ parents went to college, and where she is from.
“He was like, ‘I know the first semester can be kind of rough. Here’s my number in case you have any questions,’” Reynolds recalled about Class of 1994 alumnus John Brown.
Reynolds never expected to call him. She also never expected to get hit by a car four days later.
As a new student on the way to her first Orientation event at Brown, Reynolds was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light and was rushed to the hospital for treatment. Her parents were hours away when she learned she would be discharged, so she found the phone number she had been given just a few days prior, and asked the all-but-stranger if he could pick her up in a few hours.
Instead, Brown drove to the hospital immediately, stayed with her and even picked up her parents from the train station when they arrived.
“He checked in on me all the time, especially during that first semester,” Reynolds said. “He was kind of like my surrogate parent while I was here.”
She still holds that relationship dear — Brown will be in the audience at Saturday’s ceremony cheering Reynolds on — and she says it’s a perfect reflection of the support she’s received as part of the University community, even in moments when she wasn’t expecting it.
As a concentrator in English in the nonfiction track, Reynolds spent much of her time on campus studying systemic narratives and the intersections of race, ability and power. She played French horn in orchestra and chamber music groups, and — having wanted to become a teacher since she was a kid — spent much of her time tutoring or helping various education nonprofits.
All the while, Reynolds battled chronic fatigue, along with other lingering side effects of her accident. So when the COVID-19 pandemic moved instruction online, Reynolds saw the opportunity to reset, and she paused her studies at Brown for one year.
“My first two years, especially after the accident, I was like, ‘OK, I just need to do as much as possible and get back to the way I was before the accident,’” Reynolds said. “My leave was a time for me to reset and figure out how I can best work with my body. It was something I didn’t even know that I needed.”
In addition to working with an integrative medicine physician, Reynolds became involved in the youth climate movement. She said that experience was formative, and she returned to campus with a renewed purpose, energized by her passion for the outdoors and her dedication to healing.
She found the perfect outlet as a Brown Outdoor Leadership Training (BOLT) facilitator. Led by juniors and seniors who spend months training in outdoor skills, wilderness medicine and group facilitation, BOLT brings students together on campus and through a multiday backpacking trip in the White Mountains. Reynolds said she spent three to seven hours each week in deep conversation with fellow facilitators, tackling big concepts through the lens of wilderness and adventure.
“It was, ‘How do you light a WhisperLite camp stove? How do you talk about ability and privilege in the outdoors?’” Reynolds said. “It’s this really special community that emphasizes and facilitates relationship building.”
Reynolds further honed those skills as a facilitator for the Community Dialogue Project at Brown. Working in partnership with staff in the Division of Campus Life, the project provides a range of strategies and resources related to conflict resolution and transformation, mediation and facilitation.
“It significantly changed the way I see the world, my priorities and the way I’m able to interact with people,” she said. “I’ve learned how to be more empathetic. I’ve learned how to listen. I’ve learned how to have hard but important conversations, and through this, I can establish values and build community.”
Reynolds said the work is lifelong, but she’s dedicated to continuing it after graduation in Providence, where she hopes to become an upper-elementary school teacher.
“There’s so much about Brown that facilitates connection,” Reynolds said. “There are amazing, powerful and caring people everywhere, and they’re really easy to find here.”
Katie Haley: Owning what no one else can — her story
Brown senior Katie Haley has shared her journey from homelessness and substance use disorder to Bristol Community College valedictorian to Ivy League student countless times. She takes pride in her recovery and is no stranger to the vulnerability required to have difficult conversations.
But in her first days in the classroom at Brown, Haley said she couldn’t quite find her voice.
“Coming in with this very stigmatized background where almost nobody can relate is really, really scary,” Haley said. “It’s obviously something I disclosed before I came here, but all of a sudden, I found myself asking: Do I disclose it in these spaces when we’re talking about the subject? Does my lived experience matter?”
She credits Adjunct Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice Brad Brockmann and Senior Teaching Associate in Behavioral and Social Sciences Sarah Skeels for quickly nipping those misgivings in the bud and helping to pave the way for her to take ownership of her identity. In her psychology and public health classes, when she was nervous taking a seat at the table during conversations about addiction, Brockmann reassured her that the table was specifically built with her — and her community — in mind.
“Brad was the first, but certainly not the only or last, person here who told me I belong,” Haley said.
He also helped her secure her first research assistantship in a laboratory — an experience Haley valued, because it showed her, importantly, what she did not want to pursue in academia.
“Don’t get me wrong — we need mixed methods, but I want to be on the ground talking to people in the community, taking the surveys, doing focus groups and key informant interviews,” Haley said.
Haley harnesses her own experience to advance change. As a familiar face in several recovery communities, she aims not just to educate others, but encourage them to extend empathy to those who need it most — those who are currently in the situation she used to be in.
“Show the same compassion and love and kindness you show me, to the man that holds a sign at the bottom of College Hill every day,” Haley said.
People in vulnerable situations are often stripped of their agency, and wrangling it back can be an arduous process, she said. It was Skeels’ popular course, “Pathology to Power: Disability, Health and Community,” that jumpstarted Haley’s motivation to use her story to reclaim her narrative.
“I love my life, but one of the few things that I have ownership over is my story,” Haley said. “Sarah really showed me that being the arbiter of my own story and the teller of my own story is so much more important than anything else.”
The Donovan Program Substance-Free Program House welcomes 17 students each year who want to live with others who are either in active recovery, are substance-free for health or religious reasons, or who come from families with addiction and prefer to not be around substances.
Working closely with her “work bestie and total role model” Lindsay Garcia, who serves as associate dean of the College for recovery and substance-free student initiatives, Haley said she is charged with running the house, including its weekly events — which can range from attending public health lectures to playing with baby goats on a scenic island farm — and monthly themed dinners.
The strength and courage demonstrated by the students she works with is astounding, Haley said, and spending quality time with them is the highlight of each week.
“Doing this has completely changed the trajectory of my career,” Haley said. “Bar none, no question in my mind at all: This is where I want to be. I want to stay in collegiate recovery and work with young people in recovery.”
To get the most of out her time at Brown — between her studies in psychology, her work with the Donovan Program, the creation of a nontraditional student advisory board to advocate for the needs of nontraditional students, her community work in harm reduction, and other projects — she needed more of it. That meant not leaving; instead, Haley reduced her course load.
“I gave myself space and grace in that way, and ended up a .5er,” she said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Haley hopes to stay at Brown to pursue a master of public health. In her dream scenario, she’ll be able to continue working with the Donovan Program in some capacity. Regardless of where the future takes her, she will always cherish her lived experience here.
“Everything I’ve gotten at Brown, I get to keep,” Haley said. “That’s the great thing, right? All the relationships I’ve made, all the friendships and mentorships I’ve been a part of — both as mentor and mentee — I get to keep those. Y’all can’t take it.”
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