Her high school graduation ceremony was canceled by the pandemic, but Rebekah Allen will make her Northern Michigan University commencement especially memorable by serving as the student speaker. The first-generation college student from Davison, Mich., will also earn a bachelor's degree in English-creative writing at the Dec. 16 ceremony in NMU's Superior Dome.
“I have this mantra that I should always surprise myself and do something that forces me out of my comfort zone,” said Allen, in explaining why she auditioned for the prominent role. “It's a completely different ballgame to talk in an arena of people who are all there for the purpose of seeing one of their loved ones achieve something really big. For a while, I talked myself out of trying, figuring there were probably so many people who would want to do that and I wouldn't be picked. But then I realized it was unfair to myself to think that way.
“Northern not only taught me what I want to do, but who I want to be. I wanted to share with as large an audience as possible that these students completed their degrees and achieved much, despite the fact many of us dealt with some tough life issues outside of school. I told myself, ‘You're always supposed to do something that surprises you and tests your boundaries.' This was it for me. As much as I did it to showcase to people my experiences here and to share with the audience how awesome their graduate is, I also did it as a way to prove to myself that I could just try.”
Allen grew up visiting her late grandparents, who embraced an “up north lifestyle” and outdoor recreation activities from their home on the shore of Intermediate Lake in Bellaire. Seeking a continued taste of that same enjoyable experience, her college search included a road trip across the Mackinac Bridge to Northern. She had heard about the university situated in a scenic U.P. location truly up north on the Lake Superior shore, and was immediately hooked.
“We got in the car after my visit and I told my family this is the place that I want to be,” Allen recalled. “Location played a big part in it, but so did the people. During my visit, so many faculty members come up to me and ask what I wanted to do, and how they could help me. To feel so important and cared for on a quick visit played a huge role in my deciding to come here. I also got several follow-up emails from faculty and staff who were willing to communicate with me and really help me with the transition here.”
Allen's interest in writing was nurtured as a young child. She attentively listened to bedtime stories and went on to develop such an affinity for reading and books that she considered the Scholastic Book Fair the highlight of her school year. She ventured down the journalism path with her high school's TV station, serving as executive producer of its news program.
“I started studying multimedia journalism at Northern, but felt like I needed more creative freedom and had more to say than what the journalistic realm would allow,” she added. “I took a creative fiction writing class and fell in love with it, deciding that's what I love to do and need to major in.”
Allen recently completed her senior capstone project: a memoir of her college experience in vignette form. She plans to work on publishing that and other pieces completed at Northern while she begins graduate school at a university still to be determined. Her desire to specialize in creative nonfiction is inspired by three of her favorite books: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer; and World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
Beyond academics, Allen has been involved in a variety of campus activities and organizations. As a DJ for the student radio station, her show morphed from strictly playing music to also connecting more personally with her listeners through an advice segment titled “A Bit of Bek.” She also joined the American Sign Language Club and took related courses, served as an editor for NMU's Passages North literary magazine, and was involved in the EcoReps sustainability peer-to-peer education program, as well as the campus hoop house.
She is the daughter of Sarah Allen of Davison and David Allen of Ballinger, Texas. NMU's commencement ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 16. It will be streamed online at nmu.edu/commencement and broadcast regionally on WNMU-TV 13.