Laken. It’s a family name passed down the line for Laken Brooks. From grandfather to father and reluctantly to her, the secondhand name seems appropriate for her roots in the rural mountains of North Carolina.
“My grandfather hadn’t gone to school past the third grade but, as a water witcher, he read the land and its hidden veins like a book,” said Brooks.
As for her own reading abilities, they were acquired, as with many accomplishments in her life, through unconventional means. She learned by staring at the walls of text on cereal boxes and encyclopedias until they made sense.
Perhaps literature called to me from its bindings as water called to my grandfather.Laken Brooks
Literature would guide Brooks to graduate top of her high school class and feed the dream of being the first in her family to obtain a college degree. It was a frightening process at first. Before she left for Emory & Henry College, her grandmother held her hand, repeating, “You do not have to go, you know. You can stay here with us, find a nice boy and get married.”
“Expectations of domesticity were bred into my blood, and although my stubborn perseverance has frequently won out over my fear, I could not ignore the elephant in the room: even if I did get into college, how would I finance my education?”
Her honors education at Emory & Henry physically drew Brooks further into intellectual curiosity and an embrace of the unknown. She says her own self doubts were slowly erased after she realized that many students, in spite of the facade of perfection that she had imposed upon them, also struggled with worries of disappointing others by not living up to their potential.
My time in the program engendered within me the thrill of being uncomfortable; when we feel at ease, rarely are we taking the risks required to grow as scholars and as people.Laken Brooks
This long battle against the status quo has caught the attention of more than just those on the E&H campus. Brooks, of Lansing, N.C., has recently been selected as Honors Scholar of the Year by the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council (VCHC).
She will be recognized at the upcoming VCHC spring conference at Lynchburg College on April 15-16. While accepting the award, she will speak to her peers about her Honors experience and what it has meant to her. Brooks also will be presented with a stipend in the amount of $500. This is the second year in a row that an E&H student has been chosen as a VCHC Honors Scholar of the Year – Katie Beth Bordwine received the honor in 2015.
Joe Lane, director of the E&H Honors Program, says that Brooks is a tireless student who never takes a break without a purpose. He recalls the summer between her first and second year at Emory & Henry, when Brooks taught English in India.
She embarked on this adventure, working through a program that provides only minimal in-country guidance and support, even though she had never traveled outside the United States, or even flown in a plane, and she immediately made the most of the experience, traveling widely in India and making lifetime friends among those she met along the way.Dr. Joe Lane Director of the E&H Honors Program
Brooks has been presented the National President’s Call to Community Service Award for completing more than 4,000 hours of community service. She completed this service in a wide range of settings, including work with regional thrift stores.
She devoted her sophomore summer creating a unique application that allows women who feel threatened by domestic violence to read advice and directly access helplines away from the prying eyes of abusive partners.
Brooks also has served in a wide range of leadership positions on campus. She is the president of the Peer Educators program; a designated trainer and leader for the “ByStander” training offered to residence advisors, orientation leaders, and others; a tour guide for the Admissions Office; and a leader within an intra-faith study group.
My honors education has been anything but typical, and it has opened my eyes to see that so, too, am I,” said Brooks. “I am the status quo’s worst nightmare. Thanks to my time in the E&H honors program, I do not expect this to change anytime soon.Laken Brooks