Graduation

Lynn Houston

After a near-death experience, you really figure out what’s important, says Lynn Houston, a poet who graduated this May from Southern’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Houston’s collection of poems, “Unguarded,” recently won the inaugural Heartland Review Press prize, and will be published this fall by the press. The collection is Houston’s first book, but she also now has two other books of poetry under contract.

Writing poetry wasn’t always part of Houston’s life plan. But a few years ago, after Houston had begun keeping bees as a hobby, one day she was stung and went into anaphylactic shock. “I woke up in the hospital afterwards and thought about my bucket list,” Houston says. Although she was a literary scholar, with a Ph.D. in English and a job as a college professor, “my heart is in poetry,” she says, and she began to make some life changes.

She started a small literary press – Five Oaks Press — with her graduate students. “I started it to have a small community feeling,” she says, “but we’ve grown and we have many submissions.”

Wanting to improve her poetry, Houston applied to several MFA programs and chose Southern’s. “I wasn’t winning contests with my poems before I came to Southern, and now I am,” she says. “I like my work better now than I did two years ago, before starting this MFA program. I’m now able to write the kind of poems I enjoy reading.” Houston points to the sense of community within the MFA program as being a key component of her success.

English Professor Vivian Shipley, one of Houston’s professors and her thesis adviser, says, “As a student, Lynn was brave enough to share very personal and difficult emotions with the other poets and she invited them to come along with her as she experimented with her poems. In order to pay tribute to all those who have served our country and those who sustained them while they were deployed, the moving and memorable poems in ‘Unguarded’ are dedicated to ‘all the women who have waited for soldiers to come home.’”

Houston explains that the poems in “Unguarded” are letters she wrote to her boyfriend when he was deployed with the National Guard last year. Some of the poems appear in the book just as they were, and some Houston edited to make into poems. “This book is my heart on pages,” Houston says.

She and her boyfriend met when she was at a writing residency program. They knew he was going to be deployed, but they didn’t know when. They were together only three weeks before he deployed, serving in the Middle East.

While he was away, Houston sent him many letters. She says that as she waited for him to come back, she was strongly aware of the passage of time. “I also felt I was part of a long tradition of women waiting for men to come back from war,” she says.

Houston explains that he had been wounded previously, having been deployed six of the past 12 years and adds that “he suffers these deployments. When he came back he was not the same man as when we met.”

When he returned to the United States after several months, she flew to Florida to meet him. He told Houston her letters had stabilized him, keeping him connected to home. They spent four days together, but soon after, he broke up with her. “He was not the same person,” she says. “I was heartbroken.”

She began collecting the letters she had written to him, working on them as poems, and sending the collection out to contests. “It’s very raw,” she says of the emotion expressed in the poems. “But now I can say it was worth it – I have the book – it lives on.”

One of the judges of the Heartland Review contest, Matt Brennan of Indiana State University, wrote of “Unguarded” that it is “a coherent whole, its arc tracing the emotional plot of a woman waiting for her lover to return from a military deployment. It effectively links the changing seasons to the speaker’s fluctuating psychic experience.”

Houston says she found it difficult to be the support system for someone who’s deployed, but she adds, “My poetry has been a huge part of my healing process.”

“For other people to see the poems means so much – no other prize will ever mean so much to me,” Houston says. “It’s the record of the beautiful person I am when I’m in love with someone.”

 

A selection from “Unguarded”:

 

I Miss the Fullness of Summer Light

I’ve been up since five, and I’ve had too much

of that cold, blue glow from the computer.

What happened to the golden light of summer?

Mellifluous and wild, like well-gathered honey

with a tangy, feral taste. I’m not just talking

seasons. I’m talking about light that loves us:

second story light with its full horizon, the wide

angle of light over dunes or rolling hills, the kind

we had during afternoons in the holler.

It’s the kind of light one has to wait for,

and like anything, waiting makes it worth more.

 

She did what she loved and success followed. Julia Rotella, ’17, graduated summa cum laude after being spotlighted as one of the country’s top student marketers.

Among the 11,000 students who are members of the American Marketing Association (AMA), graduating business administration major Julia Rotella is a standout, finishing second in the organization’s 2017 Student Marketer of the Year competition. “It was really amazing to see my name up on the screen,” says Rotella of the honor, which was sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and announced at the AMA’s International Collegiate Conference in New Orleans in March.

The Monroe, Conn., native has always been drawn to the world of business. “I knew I wanted to be a marketing major since I was very young. As a kid, I actually had an eBay account and would sell things,” says Rotella. She also assisted her mother at craft fairs — learning about trade shows and how to best display products. “I enjoyed the satisfaction of selling things — being able to see the results of marketing. . . . Of course, I didn’t know that it was called marketing at the time,” she says with a smile.

That changed in Rotella’s sophomore year at Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn., when she enrolled in a marketing class. “I remember thinking, ‘Yes! This is what I want to do,’” she says. A gifted high school student, she took Honors level and Advanced Placement courses — and was an ideal candidate for very selective colleges and universities. After considering tuition costs, she chose Southern where she was accepted in the Honors College and received a Presidential Scholarship, a merit-based award that covered her full in-state tuition and fees for four years.

Choosing to commute to campus, Rotella made the most of her Southern experience, joining Southern’s collegiate chapter of the AMA, now known as SUMA — SCSU Undergraduate Marketing Association. As a sophomore she became president of the organization, a post she held until graduation. “SUMA has really helped me to become rooted here, to feel like I am part of a community,” she says.

It’s a community marked by achievement. In 2017, SUMA was a semifinalist in the AMA’s prestigious Collegiate Case Competition, finishing among the top 17 colleges and universities. (Semifinalists and finalists were listed in alphabetical order within each category without a specific ranking.) Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to reach this level — and joined Providence College as one of only two in all of New England.

The competition — open to AMA’s 370 collegiate chapters — challenged teams to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for e-commerce giant eBay. Southern’s chapter tackled the assignment admirably. “The students were thrilled. They deserve a lot of credit for finishing in a group that included representatives from some very prestigious schools,” says Randye Spina, assistant professor of marketing and SUMA’s faculty adviser. SUMA also received the AMA’s award for outstanding chapter planning.

Looking forward, the group hopes to build on its success under the leadership of Jennifer Bucci, incoming SUMA president. Among the organization’s greatest challenges — obtaining funding to attend the AMA’s international conference. “They are going to make finals,” says Rotella, who is seeking a position with a marketing agency. “I am not going to be a part of it. But I will be watching from the outside. It’s going to be amazing.”

*********************************************************************************

SCSU_17_Julia-1292f-1

Passing the Torch
More from recent graduate Julia Rotella, ’17, including a few of her tips for current and future Owls.

Self-Motivated: As a sophomore, Rotella launched her own company, JR Marketing. She’s created websites, logos, brochures, social media posts, and more for numerous clients, including the Monroe Youth Commission, the Monroe Economic Development Commission, Alcohol and Drug Awareness of Monroe (ADAM), and others.

Scholarship support: In addition to the Presidential Scholarship, Rotella received the Eleanor Jensen Endowed Scholarship and the Anthony Verlezza Endowed Scholarship.

Advice to Honors College students: “Push through it. At times, the work load is very strenuous. But if you are in the Honors College, it’s because you can handle it.”

One recent honor: Southern’s Scholastic Achievement and Leadership Award in Marketing in May 2017

Real-world experience: Rotella had marketing internships with TeamDigital Promotions; GoECart, a provider of on-demand ecommerce solutions; Talking Finger, a social media marketing agency; and ASSA Abloy, an international company offering a complete range of door-opening products, solutions, and services.

On building relationships: “Talk to your professors. If I had a question about a paper or an assignment, I’d meet during their office hours. . . . Having those conversations helped me a lot.”

Get involved: “College is what you make it. If you are motivated . . . a go-getter who is going to make things happen, then you are going to enjoy your experience. I enjoyed my years at Southern because of SUMA Marketing.”