Majoring in Yourself: Commencement Speaker Abby Tower

Even before her first step on campus, Abby Tower was determined to explore a college path less traveled. Along the way, she discovered one of the best reasons to go to college—to forge meaningful connections with professors, fellow students, people in the community and herself.

Though it’s readily evident that Tower could attain any career she set her mind to, her heart would have to come with. She’s been described by professors as a “truly exceptional student…even among our best and brightest…articulate, inspiring and passionate”. Plus possessing “tremendous intellectual curiosity, combined with a desire to understand social, political, and historical problems in their full complexity.”

“I really didn’t know what to expect coming into college, to be completely honest. (She only applied to two schools.) But Green Bay had an ESL certificate program and that’s what I wanted to pursue.” Other than that, she approached college as an experience. “I wanted a fresh start. UWGB gave me the opportunity to be my own person and discover what I was passionate about without the weight of expectations of my peers from my hometown.”

Tower took her “exploratory” approach to college to a whole new level. She remembers. “I probably changed my major between 15 and 20 times. I haven’t had 20 separate majors, but I have changed the combinations.”

To those who may consider such an approach inefficient, let the record show Tower is graduating with a double major in Political Science and Democracy and Justice Studies with an emphasis in the U.S. and the World, plus a triple minor in Spanish and Latin American Studies, Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL Certificate), and World Cultures.

All in four years and a 4.0 GPA. Her secret? “I just took the classes that excited me and inspired me to want to learn more, and it worked out for me.”

If “things working out” meant making the most of every opportunity, faculty quickly noticed and appreciated the effort. Professor Jennifer Ham, Chair of Humanities and Abby’s internship supervisor, notes that “Abby is an exceptional student, always awake, always thinking, reflecting and looking for new angles and approaches to situations.” She’s also been praised for a “tremendous intellectual curiosity combined with a desire to understand social, political, and historical problems in their full complexity.”

Not bad for someone, who as a first-year student, wandered into a professor’s office, completely lost. “I remember telling a professor, I didn’t  know what I want to major in. I didn’t have a “dream” career and I didn’t  know what I was  doing. I remember feeling like I needed to have my whole life planned out by then.”

Then came a bit of advice that still stays with her. “A professor told me I could spend my four years here and just go to class—which would be fine—or I could go to class and get to know my classmates, my professors and the community. They told me that my time at UW-Green Bay would be the experience that I chose for it to be. That stuck with me. Getting involved as much as possible.”

Few Phoenix have been more involved—inside the classroom, as a peer success coach, teaching assistant and teaching English as a second language—and with internships at Casa ALBA Melanie, a Hispanic Resource Center of the greater Green Bay area and The Brown County Public Defenders Office; plus teaching English as a Second Language at Literacy Green Bay.

So what to do for an encore? She’s currently completing an honors project on domestic policies and discourse dealing with refugees and asylum seekers.

As far as post-graduation—there are currently no ivory aspirations for this Tower. “I’m taking a few years off, looking at different roles with a variety of local non-profits, research and legal assistant-ships.” She does see law school, but not right away. These days, community comes first. “I like working alongside people and finding common solutions together. And working toward change. That drives a lot of the decisions I make.”

Tower sets off to her next adventure with this advice to any first-year college student feeling lost. “Don’t get so focused necessarily on finding the right major or the right career, that you forget your passions and what you’re actually interested in.” This is certainly one Phoenix that won’t be soon forgotten.

Story: Michael Shaw. Photo: Dan Moore.