Cooke Conversations: 5 Questions with Michelle McLeod

michelle-edit-4.jpgWe’re continuing our series of alumni profiles by interviewing Cooke Scholars from across our scholarship programs. We hope to inspire current and future Cooke Scholars by highlighting the incredible range of personalities, ambitions, and accomplishments of this talented group!

Cooke Scholar Michelle McLeod received our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in 2007 and continued her studies as a Cooke Graduate Scholar beginning in 2009. She shares her thoughts on resilience and advocacy in the interview below.


I was born to be an advocate, laugh at my own jokes, and to make lemonade out of lemons. Similar to an “Uncle Jack,” I’m “Aunt Mickey” to many Cooke Scholars, and if you asked me what my total count of nieces and nephews really are (biological or “adopted”), I don’t think I could truly come up with the amount (it is definitely over 30 at this point!). I also believe that everyone should be free to be who they are inside and out, love whomever they want, and never be stopped from receiving an education.


1. What does being a Cooke Scholar mean to you?

Being a Cooke Scholar sets me apart from those outside of our scholar community consistently. Recently, as a matter of fact, I was told I might be “over-ambitious” in the goals I have set for my non-profit, a non-profit called Honorary Nieces and Nephews that raises money for need-based and educational scholarships for LGBTQ homeless youth and foster care youth who are aging out of foster care. I laughed at that possibility because compared to my fellow Cooke Scholars sometimes I don’t think I’m doing enough! This example shows the intensity in which we as Cooke Scholars have a “can do” attitude and won’t settle for mediocre, if we can help it. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But are we resilient, hard-working, and results-oriented? You bet we are!


2. What was the best advice given to you as an undergraduate in college?

Get involved! Standing on the sidelines doesn’t allow you the chance to make a change at your school or campus. Being a leader opens up opportunities to know the faculty and staff, as well as the other students on a one-to-one basis. For me, the long-term outcomes have been tremendous with increased percentages of diversity, military/veteran presence, and even a few more Cooke Scholars on campus too. Had I not listened to that advice, I also wouldn’t have received “Student Leader of the Year” and various other awards, or even possibly the total of six scholarships as an undergraduate.


3. What is one thing you did to help you transition to your first year out of college (undergrad)?

Transitioning out of college is definitely a different experience for everyone, but at the same time it is always a transition nonetheless. As a student who was very non-traditional going to college, I was very focused on continuing my studies without interruption. This meant that transitioning out of college was merely preparing for the next step of graduate school. In the immediate few months after graduating from college I was totally focused on relocating from the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic region. This kept me occupied and not as concerned about anything else. Being in a relationship also meant I would have to consider my partner and all their needs so that also kept me focused on the goals ahead as well.


4. What is a recent book that you enjoyed reading?

It’s been a while since I was able to sit down and read through an entire book! The last book I can remember was “The Alchemist.” This book clearly takes you on a journey through dreams and imagination. It’s a story for the ages with creative imagery, a main character with depth and a motivational spirit, and additional characters that have an investment in this one young man’s journey. The book reminded me a lot of Cooke Scholars. As Cooke Scholars, we have the  same drive of the main character in “The Alchemist,” as well as a support system within the Cooke Foundation and other fellow Cooke Scholars, and we dream, inspire, aspire, and each of us has a journey that could be written as a story for the ages too.


5. If you were to create your own cookie, what would it consist of and what name would you give it?

Given that I am an advocate on LGBTQ issues one would figure a rainbow cookie (though I can’t say that colorful rainbow dots aren’t quite adorable on cookies!), but the truth is I would create a cookie that doesn’t crumble – at all. It would break in pieces, but never crumble. Pieces of the cookie can always be attached again, but if it crumbles, it becomes a pile of dust on the floor only to be blown away by the wind. I would call it the “Indestructible, Incorruptible, Crumble-less Cookie”!  I would travel the world like a Keebler elf sharing this new phenomenon and changing the world with a crumble-less cookie. It would consist of all the things that make a cookie durable (and since I’m not what you would call “domestic” in the kitchen, I can’t give you the specific ingredients!). What I do know is that all the leaders around the world will want those cookies on their tray every day.


Read more Cooke Conversations here.