Monday, June 23, 2014

Guest Blog - McKenzie Higgins (2009, Political Science)

Sometimes in our college experience we learn as much or even more from the challenges that we face than we do the from the easy successes.  In this guest blog, McKenzie Higgins (2009, Political Science) reflects on her experience with the senior capstone project. As she writes in her essay, the thesis requirement presents a new level of challenge that can sometimes snare even the best of students. McKenzie does a beautiful job explaining how she initially viewed that one "low" grade on her transcript as "black mark" that she longed to erase. She knew the end product of the research project did not reflect her true ability; and so McKenzie chose to learn from the experience, to turn her disappointment into motivation to do better. Having worked hard to amass a stellar record in her four years at Daemen College, she went forth, armed with more than just a piece of paper declaring she had completed a college degree -- McKenzie left Daemen College with the knowledge she had gained through her coursework, including that less than perfect thesis experience. And she carried with her one more thing -- outstanding letters of reference, rich with details of her accomplishments, her abilities, and her potential not yet realized. For you see, students are so much more than any one entry on a transcript and confronting a challenge is a healthy and expected part of the learning experience. Academic growth occurs when we are challenged -- and when we learn to challenge ourselves. McKenzie was neither the first nor the last student to be disappointed by an undergraduate thesis grade. Whether thesis proves to be a relatively easy successes or a significant challenge, what really matters is the question McKenzie invites you to ask: what will you take from your experience? 

McKenzie Higgins (2009, Political Science) 

Opportunity Knocks Twice

     Capstone requirements… projects, papers, and the dreaded thesis. All of these things make a student’s skin crawl. The weight on a student’s future and the magnitude of research, writing, effort, and understanding required cannot be underestimated. It truly makes for a test of will and wit.
      I fancied myself a stellar writer as a student at Daemen. I sailed through Comp 101 and made easy work of my “writing intensive” classes – even Art History 285. I felt like I had a good handle on the technical aspect as well as the substantive research and time required. I was flying high until… thesis. It was a harsh reality check. I managed to make my way through the process with the lowest grade of my entire Daemen Career (I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 3.74). I wasn’t proud of it. My product was awful, and at the end, I would have given anything for a do-over. But, as so often said, “opportunity knocks only once.” I lived with that black mark on my transcript and it definitely shaped my future decisions. Knowing I had that poor writing sample to my credit, PhD programs looked to be far out of reach. What could I do with my Political Science degree now that I cannot pursue my dream of being a college professor? I did what the other half does with a Political Science degree – I put my efforts into law school applications and made my way to Auburn Hills, Michigan to enroll at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
      I then spent the next three years relearning everything I ever thought I knew about school, relearning everything I ever thought I knew about how to write. I spent hours upon hours writing about things that didn’t mean all that much to me intellectually… premises liability, Michigan’s open and obvious danger doctrine, the infamous law school hypothetical: “Jimmy Ate a Sandwich, So what?” This isn’t to say I didn’t gain anything from law school or that it wasn’t an amazing experience – because it was. But there was always this nagging inner-academic that longed for the ability to re-do a thesis, to conduct that independent research and have people listen to me – and to do it RIGHT.  At the end of three years learning about torts, contracts, property, criminal law, tax and trying my hand at litigation skills, I thought I was ready to leave school behind once and for all. But, I still couldn’t get past that nagging desire to write. And mere weeks before I was ready to walk across the stage with my Juris Doctor degree, I discovered that the Juris Doctor degree is not the end of the road. There’s another law degree – the LL.M. or “Masters of Laws.”
      The LL.M. is a highly specialized degree, focusing in a very narrowly tailored area of law – usually taxation or corporate business. Those fields meant nothing to me. But then, someone told me that you can create your own LL.M. That’s it! An LL.M. in Criminal Law. So, I took up the lengthy application process and finished out my final few weeks of law school. Everyone looked at me like I was absolutely nuts. Trust me, three years of law school takes its toll, so it is completely understandable why someone would question my sanity and my desire to continue.
      I was a long-shot to gain admission into this prestigious program. Only 2-7% of attorneys in America ever achieve an LL.M. But alas, I was offered a spot and here I sit at my desk almost two years later after that acceptance, after handing in my LL.M. thesis. Yes, I said it. Thesis. I got my second chance at perfection. For approximately 17-18 weeks, I fully engaged in the art and science of researching my topic. It became the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning and the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep. I kept notepads all over my apartment because prolific thoughts are not contained to when you’re sitting at your computer or in a library. I just handed that thesis in and I am truly proud of what I’ve accomplished. Having another degree to add to my resume is surely something to be proud of. But, what I’m more proud of is the ability to say that opportunity can knock twice and that just because the first time you may not have the most amazing result, it is not the end.   
      Tenacity is key. Winston Churchill put it so simply:  “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'' The end of your Daemen journey is not your end of opportunity. If something hasn’t gone right in your Daemen academics, it isn’t the end of the world, and it isn’t the end of opportunity. Seek it out. Take a chance. Be bold. Be brave. And never, never miss the opportunity that might knock twice.

McKenzie M. Higgins, Esq.
Bachelor of Arts, Daemen College 2009
Juris Doctor, Thomas M. Cooley Law School 2012
Legum Magistra (Master of Laws), Thomas M. Cooley Law School 2014

*Admitted to Practice in New York State and in the Federal Courts for the Eastern District of Michigan.

McKenzie Higgins (2009, Political Science)
2014 Daemen Ride for Roswell Team Captain 

To date, McKenzie is the only graduate of the History & Political Science Department to earn both a J.D. and a graduate law degree (LL.M).  Her Master's thesis, which she successfully defended in March, 2014, is entitled, "Total Inclusion: Opening Therapeutic Justice Courts to Medical Marijuana Patients in Michigan."  In addition to working as a practicing attorney, McKenzie plans to continue her scholarly research and writing.  

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