Alumna shares words of wisdom about perseverance, inclusion 10 years after graduation

Brown-Henderson // Photo courtesy
Brown-Henderson // Photo courtesy
Brown-Henderson // Photo courtesy

Alumni will be able to return to campus 10 years after they graduate to share their “Words of Wisdom” as part of a new Homecoming tradition that started this year.

Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, a University of Miami alumna who now works at Northwestern University, shared her story of perseverance in the the past 10 years since graduating from UM in the inaugural “Words of Wisdom” event held Thursday in the Student Activities Center.

“So many things that I’ve learned, I learned by reminiscing about the good old Miami days,” Brown-Henderson said. “This has helped with how I understand myself and my personal journey.”

Patricia Whitely, Vice President for Student Affairs, said she thought it would be beneficial for student leaders to hear the stories of UM alumni.

“Some traditions may take a while to take hold,” Whitely said. “I plan to ask somebody back who has graduated 10 years ago, to help you think about your next 10 years.”

At Northwestern, Brown-Henderson is the executive director of campus inclusion and community. Her job is to help create inclusive environments where students can understand cultural differences and gain knowledge. She collaborates with other departments focused on student engagement.

As a UM student, Brown-Henderson began on a pre-medical track, but switched to psychology with minors in chemistry and African-Caribbean studies. She was president of United Black Students as a junior, and spoke about her active involvement in other school organizations.

“Building community for students is very important,” she said. “This can change lives and help get people through. United Black Students was my lifeline.”

Her stories focused on her journey, mentioning not only what she did to succeed, but also the roadblocks along the way. She spoke about her experience being a low-income, first generation college student, and what she did to find her way and overcome financial struggles.

She talked about how she got into a master’s program at Texas A&M University despite applying after the deadline, and getting through a rigorous doctorate program in counseling psychology with an emphasis on multicultural issues and higher education.

The theme in her speech was perseverance through community and never giving up. She also stressed the importance of taking care of oneself.

“Taking care of yourself is important. Schedule yourself in,” she said. “What is at your very core? Do something everyday that you love, even if only for 20 minutes. Work should be a joy, not a burden.”

When Brown-Henderson realized that she was overwhelmed by her rigorous doctoral program and full-time job, she decided to take a year off.

“I realized that I lost myself, I would never come home,” she said. “I was spiraling downwards.”

She said that the break came in handy later on because as she graduated and was getting job offers, she was able to reflect on that time off and really figure out the right job for her.

Senior Obianuju Nwamah, president of African Students Union, enjoyed Brown-Henderson’s perspective.

“I liked the fact that she talked about her issues at UM and how she got through them,” Nwamah said. “Learning how other people got through their issues is often more useful than hearing about their successes.”


This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2.