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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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MaKennah Little

Photo contributed by MaKennah Little.

After four years at Grinnell College, MaKennah Little ’20 is no stranger to the “ton” of papers she has due during finals week. A first-generation college student from Oskaloosa, Iowa, Little expected the work; she wasn’t, however, expecting that she would be writing those papers alone, in her bedroom in a duplex off-campus.

“I don’t think I realized how serious the whole pandemic was, because I was like, ‘This is going to be so much fun,’” she said, reflecting back to the day the College officially announced the transition to remote learning. “Then reality set in.”

At that point, the city of Grinnell became “totally dead,” said Little. “[The] way that I’ve been trying to survive is by trying to do one thing I think is fun every day. Just try to do a small thing that’s for no reason other than to treat yourself.”

Just hours before her interview with The S&B, Little completed her first ever 5K, capping off eight weeks of regular training. “On the first day of quarantine I was like ‘I should start running,’ because I can’t go to the gym. … [And] now I’m training for a 10K.” Although she may stop short of a marathon, Little suggested a half-marathon could ultimately become another goal on the horizon.

Even with new hobbies, though, Little recognizes how much life has changed since March, especially with regards to Grinnell’s social scene. “The people are the best part,” she said. And for Little, the relationships she fostered were a cornerstone of her Grinnell experience.

“At first, I was, like, so afraid every day. … Pretty much my entire first year of college I would never say anything in any of my classes. Like actually, I didn’t say anything … ever,” Little said.

That strategy did not last long at Grinnell, and starting with her first-year tutorial with Assistant Professor Patrick Inglis, sociology, Little began breaking out of her shell, eventually declaring as a sociology major and global development studies concentrator.

“I kind of have this personal motto. … It stems from that I was so insecure that everyone was smarter than me at the beginning of college. … So literally every day when I would go to school I would tell myself, ‘Nobody is smarter then you; you’re all in the same place for the same reason.’ I feel like the biggest struggle I had to overcome was being intimidated by everybody, [and] I think I learned how to stand up for myself and how to advocate for myself.”

Little channeled her newfound confidence and commitment to advocacy through her work in the Office of Disability Resources. “You can learn so much about the ways different technologies can be used to accommodate all students whether or not you even have a disability, … just learning how to make technology work better for your life,” said Little.

“I made a lot of friends there,” she added.

But her work in disability resources was only half of Little’s favorite experiences at Grinnell. She also found herself on what might be the largest intramural basketball team in Grinnell College history.

“My friend Abigail Lewis ’20 just dreamed up this basketball team. At first, we only had four members, but we were looking forward to this season because we were going to have like 53 people on our email list. We definitely would have won the tournament,” said Little.

With her own journey to self-empowerment well underway, Little is already looking to transform her self-advocacy into advocating for others as a paralegal in Iowa City helping low-income Iowans this fall.

After completing an internship in immigration law last summer, Little’s mind became set on becoming a lawyer. “Immigration law can be life or death, and I just think [it’s] a great way to advocate for people,” she said. “[But] you have to feel empowered to speak up for yourself

before you can apply that to other people.” Little plans to attend law school after working as a paralegal for a year.

Until then, Little has been making use of this quiet time to soak up her final days at Grinnell. From nostalgic walks and bike rides through campus to a small, impromptu “commencement” on stage with some friends, Little has been creating her own version of a senior experience.

Even as her senior year wraps up amidst a world of uncertainty, Little is ready to transition to her postgraduate life. “I think I’m just excited for change,” she said. “I’m moving, I’m starting a new job and it’ll feel good to be excited about something, because honestly there’s not a lot to look forward to. So yeah, I’m just getting excited.”

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