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Purdue Graduate School News

June 1, 2020

The Stories behind Say It In 6®

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” This belief of Ernest Hemingway, presumed author of the six-word story “baby shoes for sale, never worn,” captures the essential power of words that Purdue Graduate School’s Say It In 6® competition aspires to. Mackenzie Breneman, Casie Blair, and Haroon Mohammad, the 2020 winners of Purdue Graduate School’s Say it in 6® competition, bring to life the vision that first inspired Linda J. Mason, Dean of the Graduate School and professor of entomology, to found the contest.

Founded in 2018, the Graduate  School’s Say it in 6® competition is inspired by SMITH Magazine’s Say-it-in-6® memoirs, which challenge participants to tell a compelling story in six words. Mason defined the mission of Say It In 6®, saying, “We wanted to give graduate students and post doctoral staff the opportunity to tell the story of their educational experience in a creative and succinct way. The Say It In 6® competition challenges participants to deliver a compelling message—a skill that can impact future career success.” This year’s winning entries exemplify not only the power of words, but also Purdue’s spirit of togetherness.

"Whether Together or Apart We're Boilermakers" -Mackenzie Breneman

For her six-word entry, first-place winner Mackenzie Breneman, who completed her master’s degree in Global Public Relations at Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication this spring, wrote, “Whether Together or Apart, We’re Boilermakers.” The sentiment reflects the strength of Purdue’s spirit, which Breneman experienced throughout her years as a graduate student and teaching assistant. This spring, as classes went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Breneman’s parting with the campus was bittersweet. She wanted to remind herself and other students that they were still in it together, and that Purdue was still there for them.

Highlighting this sentiment of unity, Breneman said, “I’ve been extremely proud of instructors and my fellow graduate students during this time. I’m proud to be among individuals that care so deeply about the well-being of their students and who did the best they could while facing a pandemic.”

For the accompanying image, Breneman and her friend Michael Rose captured a photo of her in a beam of light next to Neil Armstrong’s statue. “Purdue is more than just a physical place,” she said, adding that “Neil Armstrong’s statue seemed like the perfect place to capture the idea of separation, adding an additional meaning since Neil Armstrong sadly passed away in 2012. Even though Neil has passed, and Purdue’s students are gone from campus, the spirit is still there.”

"All That Glitters Is Purdue Gold" -Casie Blair

Casie Blair, a graduate student working on a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology, who won second-place in the Say It In 6® competition, also expressed her pride in Purdue, with her entry: “All That Glitters is Purdue Gold.” The accompanying photo is of Blair before her undergraduate graduation, taken by Sally Jane Steffy. Blair’s words reflect her message that there is value in cultivating opportunities. “You can take something that has a slight glimmer and polish it into something beautiful,” Blair said. “This idea emulates my involvement at Purdue as I took small opportunities that created a fantastic Purdue experience.”

As Blair prepares to graduate in August, she reflects with gratitude on what it means to be a Boilermaker. Although the classes, music and service organizations, study abroad programs, and research opportunities are shining points, it is the people that make Purdue so special, including professors and alumni. Blair said, “I feel a great sense of Purdue pride knowing of the amazing things graduates have gone to do, paving the way for our world to improve in all areas of industry, business, and philosophy.” She added, “I also feel pride knowing that my late grandfather, Ronald Glenn Daugherty, was a 1950 graduate of Purdue University.”

"Even Busy Scientists Need Cuddle Buddies" -Haroon Mohammad

Neither distance between generations nor physical distance can diminish Purdue’s spirit. Haroon Mohammad, who is currently a postdoctoral research associate in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine and who also completed his PhD in Microbiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, was inspired to submit his six-word entry while at his home in New Orleans.

“Even Busy Scientists Need Cuddle Buddies,” Mohammad wrote. The phrase won the People’s Choice award along with a heart-warming image, taken by his wife Silai Mirzov (a fellow Purdue alumnus), of Mohammad and their cat Lola. Here, Mohammad told the story of that moment:

“Early in the mornings, our cat Lola loves to find us and ask for pets. Normally she is a “touch-me-not” cat. She preferred social distancing before it became the norm. On that day when the picture was taken, my wife and I were about to start a self-care day by grabbing donuts from a local business in New Orleans. Before we left, Lola jumped onto our bed, and I came over to pet her. As I came closer, she reached out and nuzzled me with her nose. My heart melted, and I felt a sense of happiness that is hard to describe. This moment made me really appreciate the comfort that pets bring into your life and how much support they can provide to you in times of difficulty.” 

Although the joy Mohammad felt with Lola inspired him to craft his six words, his message extends beyond the healing power of pets. He said, “Taking time to re-charge is important, though physical and mental wellness can come in many forms—exercise, cooking, meeting with friends for coffee or a meal, or cuddling with your pet! The entry I submitted was meant to encourage and inspire folks to think about ways to incorporate regular self-care into their routine.”  Mohammad noted that self-care can be a challenge for those with many responsibilities, such as graduate and postdoctoral researchers, so it is important to persistently value one’s health.

As with pursuing an excellent education, pursuing mental health is best done with a support-system. Mohammad attested to this, and added, “Finding a wonderful group of colleagues throughout Purdue University who were supportive of me and provided guidance both professionally and personally helped mold me into the scientist, mentor, and individual I have become.” In turn, Mohammad gives back to his Purdue community.  “I take pride in sharing my experiences with my mentees and junior researchers as they navigate through the challenges of graduate school.” In doing so, Mohammad contributes to Purdue’s culture of support, which persistently demonstrates how we take our greatest steps together.

Author: Beth Ferrier

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