What I’ve Learned: Shannon Burrows ’19

For the longest time, the 2019 Holt Outstanding Senior thought Rollins was out of her league. Now, she’s graduating with straight As.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

How’s this for a reason to celebrate? Graduating summa cum laude from Rollins’ Hamilton Holt School. As the Holt Outstanding Senior, the Holt School equivalent of valedictorian. With a 4.0 GPA. On your birthday.

That’s what Shannon Burrows ’19 has on tap for Saturday, May 11.

Growing up in Orlando, Burrows says she considered Rollins “the unattainable pot of gold at the end of the Park Avenue rainbow.” She never dreamed she’d be able to attend—let alone as a 40-something mother of two boys.

But one day four years ago, fate intervened.

Burrows and her husband, Patrick, were having lunch on Park Avenue. He knew she always wanted to complete her degree, having twice dropped out of a larger college, so, after a glass or two of wine, they strolled down to campus and found themselves looking around the English department. 

An hour later, they were speaking with a Holt advisor. Even though Burrows had never heard of Rollins’ evening program, it didn’t take long to realize this was the perfect fit.

“It seemed so sudden and serendipitous at the time,” she says, “but looking back I had been planning it for a long time. Rollins was the right place for me. It felt like a tight-knit community. It felt like home.”

While at Holt, Burrows worked as a freelance medical writer and co-founder of Wordslingr.com, a collaborative online writing studio. A Holt Scholar who majored in psychology, Burrows was awarded the Grace Warlow Barr Scholarship for creative writing, her minor. She was also inducted into both Psi Chi, the international honor society for psychology, and Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for nontraditional students.

Next up: Burrows is writing new software for Wordslingr and working on a novel she started at Rollins while she explores where to pursue an MFA degree. The Lies We Tell Ourselves is about a teen girl struggling with depression and suicide who finds salvation through an unlikely friendship.

On the cusp of graduation, we asked Burrows to reflect on her four years as a nontraditional student at Rollins.

English professor Matthew Forsythe and Holt Outstanding Senior Shannon Burrows ’19. Photo by Scott Cook. English professor Matthew Forsythe and Holt Outstanding Senior Shannon Burrows ’19. Photo by Scott Cook.

I really feel like the Holt School caters to working adults. The flexibility of the Holt schedule and having night classes—that’s a huge plus. As parents and working employees, we have to schedule our time very carefully, and Holt understands that.

The small classes at Rollins really appealed to me. There’s a mutual respect between the professors and students, and that’s really conducive to a great learning environment.

Raising kids is expensive. College is expensive. Life is expensive. So having the support of generous donors was immensely helpful, especially with two boys eating me out of house and home. The financial aid really motivated me to excel academically. It was the only way to make my education possible.

A lot of adults might feel that scholarships are only available to high school seniors. But to know that as a 40-year-old mom I could go back and receive a scholarship for my hard work, that was really empowering.

In creative writing, Professor (Matthew) Forsythe learned what made me tick and really pushed me to get outside my comfort zone and trust my instincts so I could get my story down. I feel I have a confidence in my writing I didn’t have before.

In psychology, Stacey Dunn was an incredible mentor. We kept a gratitude journal every day, and the assignment was just to write down three things you’re thankful for. I ended up writing 88 letters to my children, and that became my first book.

I paired psychology with creative writing on purpose, so it could help inform my fiction, so I could draft characters who are flawed. And while I did learn about those things, my big takeaway was all the great things about the human condition, the grit and gratitude and perseverance.

I thought I was going to study the dark side of humanity, but Dr. Dunn, she brought in positive psychology—and it was beautiful to see what healthy, well-balanced adults do and try to apply that to my life.

It was huge to explore my creativity in all my classes. Creativity is where the future is, in any discipline. Whether it’s education or business or psychology or entrepreneurship, creativity drives successful endeavors. Everywhere I looked at Rollins, I saw creativity. That was really inspiring and something I’ll always carry with me.

My husband and kids were my biggest support. I’ve missed so many baseball games, but my kids were so understanding and encouraging. They celebrated the victories of me getting an A on a test, and one of my favorite memories was just sitting at the table and doing homework with them. I’ve had four surgeries for chronic illness while at Rollins, and my husband was amazing to get me through it. He always gave me that benevolent pressure and little nudge I needed to keep going.

Hands down, what I’ll miss most about Rollins is the people. Every time I’d walk onto campus from the crosswalk on Fairbanks, I’d be overwhelmed with this sense of gratitude. The campus is beautiful, but the people are beautiful too. Just how the whole Rollins community is so inclusive, I never felt like the old lady mom going back to school.

Coming full circle: I feel like that’s the thing for me. This is the best gift I could have given myself, to go back and do this. And to win the outstanding senior—that’s icing on the cake.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

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