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From February through June, we are helping to highlight ways that UW-Madison changes lives for the better throughout the state of Wisconsin. March’s theme is affordability and excellence. Watch for more at #UWChangesLives on social media. And here’s how you can help.

For Alexandra Pleasant, people make the story. 

“I like disarming characters,” she says. “They say something and your walls are down and you suddenly really care about them.” 

As a first-generation student navigating her way through the university experience, Pleasant has learned she has as much courage, grace and gumption as any literary protagonist. 

Pleasant was a talented student in her northern Wisconsin hometown, where she wrote poetry, fiction and even a full-length play. 

“Minocqua’s a really great place to grow up,” she says. “But it’s isolated, as small towns in the woods tend to be.” 

That made her first year at UW-Madison an adjustment.

“I spent a lot of freshman year going to astronomy talks, art history lectures and novelist events, just because I had never had the opportunity for things like that before.” 

Pleasant didn’t think seriously about English as a major until she learned she could focus on composition and writing, in addition to reading and analyzing literature.

Part of it is the potential writing has, that there is no right ‘next word’ — it could go anywhere.

As Pleasant gravitated toward creative writing, she found a community in the English department. Fellow students welcomed her and faculty encouraged her in her studies and helped alleviate some of the pressure of being a first-in-family college student. 

“So many of the opportunities I’ve been given stem from the support of my parents, former teachers and my community,” she says. “At first, I was afraid of disappointing all these people, that all the good things they had done for me would be wasted if I didn’t pick the right major or didn’t do absolutely everything I could to succeed in Madison.” 

And things didn’t always go smoothly. An error in her parents’ taxes during her sophomore year made Pleasant ineligible for scholarships and financial aid, and she had to withdraw from school. While some students wouldn’t have found their way back, Pleasant stayed in Madison, working three jobs, and returned to classes the following semester. The time away only reinforced how much she valued her education.   

Now a senior, Pleasant is working toward degrees in English and Communication Arts and is excited to see where writing takes her. 

“It’s a lot of late nights and scraps of paper, but I love it wholeheartedly,” she says. “Part of it is the potential writing has, that there is no right ‘next word’ — it could go anywhere.”

This story appears in the fall 2018 issue of Letters & Science magazine. 
Read the full issue here.