Audrey Fisher – Overcoming obstacles to degree completion
By Auriana Cook
Audrey Fisher has always been a creative soul. Throughout her life, she has been involved in dance, music, theater and writing. Her creative writing spans across many genres, from songwriting, to poetry, fiction, nonfiction and playwriting. It seems natural, then, that Audrey found her way to Marylhurst’s B.A. in English Literature and Writing with a concentration in creative writing. Now, after walking in Marylhurst’s 2016 commencement ceremony and with only six credits to complete over the summer before earning her degree, Audrey speaks about her Marylhurst journey with a sense of warmth and belonging. However, the road to get here wasn’t easy.
Difficult beginnings and finding support
For her first two years of high school, Audrey attended Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego while living with her mother. Her life was then thrown into chaos when her mom married an abusive man. “When your stable living environment is no longer stable, you can’t concentrate on the things you’re supposed to, like school,” Audrey says. She started missing class, and says that “teachers were concerned, but they just thought I was being rebellious. I quit dance team. My life was in a total disarray. To cope, I turned to substance abuse.”
Audrey moved to Troutdale with her mother and stepfather, which meant transferring to Reynolds High School – a larger and less personalized school than Lakeridge. Audrey felt like she was drowning, and at age 16, she dropped out of high school.
She ended up attending an alternative school for at-risk youth called Reynolds Learning Academy. Here, her passion for writing was nurtured. She says, “I had an amazing English teacher there – her name was Laura Buddendeck. She taught me that my stories were valuable. Through my writing I let her know some of the things that were going on at home, and she really walked alongside of me as I was going through this process of trying to graduate high school and wanting to go to college.”
Audrey began to see college as an option when she got involved with The Multnomah Youth Cooperative, a conservation crew for teenagers. “That was really what put me back on track. And from that, you get scholarship money for college,” Audrey explains. She was also awarded the Krueger Scholarship through her school, which was $2000 per year for four years of college. “Before that, I didn’t see a future,” Audrey says.
Mt. Hood to Marylhurst
Audrey started classes at Mt. Hood Community College, and her mom left her abuser for good. Things were looking up, but Audrey wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue in college. She didn’t consider writing seriously, and she remembers a voice in her head saying, “What are you gonna do with that creative, artistic pursuit?”
While working toward her transfer degree, Audrey got a job as a math tutor at Mt. Hood. Deep down, she hoped that there would be an opening for a writing tutor – and soon enough, there was. Writing was like a persistent tap on Audrey’s shoulder, trying to sway her toward the arts. Still, she wasn’t considering writing as a career – she was thinking about nursing school.
After graduating with her transfer degree, Audrey continued to work for Mt. Hood, now as a learning specialist. On a whim one summer, she enrolled in a creative nonfiction writing class. Audrey credits Professor Scarlett Saavedra for rekindling her drive to write. “[Saavedra] asked me, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ I was like, ‘I work here, and I’m gonna be a nurse!’ She was like, ‘A nurse?! You’re a writer, and you should go to Marylhurst!’”
With this in mind, Audrey visited Marylhurst. She describes the experience as almost transcendent: “Walking onto that campus, it’s like, everything stops for a second. It’s so calm. The peace, the quiet, the architecture . . . it’s the Hogwarts of the Pacific Northwest.” She had been offered a scholarship for a school in Oklahoma, where her father lived – but when she weighed her options, “Marylhurst felt right.”
Audrey’s initial feeling of belonging at Marylhurst has grown since she started classes in the fall of 2014. She credits the dedicated staff of the English department for this, particularly Jay Ponteri, who she praises as “such a talented, creative writing professor.”
On Audrey’s extensive list of favorite classes, one stand-out experience was a weekend Graphic Novel course with Perrin Kerns. Audrey was thrilled to be exposed to the art form, and she discovered that the assigned readings – from Art Spiegelman’s Maus to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – offered a world of visual narrative well worth the weekend of intensive study. But what impacted Audrey the most was a statement she recalls Kerns saying: “The only difference between us and these artists isn’t talent, it’s that they work very hard and very long toward these goals, and we just have to believe in ourselves if we want to do what they’re doing.”
Another highlight was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which Audrey had never experienced before taking Marylhurst’s Shakespeare in Performance class. This class takes place in Ashland for three days each June. “I had seen some Shakespeare plays, but nothing like this. We go behind the scenes, and we get to see a really clear picture of all that goes on, and the hard work and dedication and collaboration of everyone in these productions . . . the management has to be amazing for it to be so well oiled!” Audrey says.
Audrey’s degree path was nearly derailed in the winter of 2015. She had recently started taking dance classes after a long break, when an unfortunate accident shook her world.
Audrey describes the incident: “We were practicing for recital. My favorite move was jumping over the bench into what is called a barrel roll . . . It was just a freak accident where I didn’t make it over the bench. I nicked the bench and just ate it, landed on a straight leg . . . I knew instantly that something was wrong, and got taken to the hospital.”
Audrey had torn her ACL and her meniscus. “I could not calm myself down because my dream that I wanted was done, and I knew it,” she says.
Not only was Audrey in emotional and physical distress, but she suddenly found herself in the midst of finals at Marylhurst, unable to write. “I was taking prescription painkillers. You have to have it, but it clouds your mind. I couldn’t think about anything, and there was an underlying depression. I was trying not to take painkillers so I could write, but then I’d be so distracted by the pain,” she remembers.
A slight detour, and the journey back
Audrey describes a dark period the term after her injury: “I gave it all up. I wasn’t going to go back to Marylhust. After that fogginess and depression, I was like, ‘I’m not a writer anymore.’ I didn’t know who I was at that point.” So she took a term of business classes at Portland State University.
Before her injury, Audrey had sent out four poems to Mt. Hood’s literary magazine, Perspectives. While at PSU, she heard that her work had been accepted. She attended a release party, and communing with a group of writers reminded her of what she was missing.
After a conversation with Jay Ponteri, her academic adviser, Audrey decided to come back to Marylhurst. The English department welcomed her back with open arms. She remembers thinking, “There’s nothing that’s going to stop me from finishing my degree at Marylhurst.”
Coming up next
Though pain management has been a struggle even after undergoing surgery for her leg, Audrey has persisted in pursuing her degree. Now, she only has one course to complete before graduating – the summer study abroad trip with Dr. Meg Roland, a three-week journey to London and Rome. Audrey can’t believe she will be trekking across Europe soon, after months of couch-bound recovery. “It doesn’t feel real,” she says.
But it is real – and so are the many new avenues that Audrey is considering for after graduation. For instance, she has just applied for a literary management residency at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, after becoming smitten with OSF through Marylhurst. She will learn if she’s been accepted in late fall 2016.
Audrey plans to devote her post-Marylhurst life to her many creative endeavors. She will soon be able to dance again, and also plans to work on music and standup comedy.
When asked about her long-term goals, Audrey says: “I want to make just enough money that I can support myself and my art making habits. Professionally, things are gonna happen the way that they do. But I think more so my goal is to keep a positive attitude through adverse situations. What I’ve learned is that an injury changes things, but it doesn’t have to change everything. Same with coming from a difficult background. If you can come of out of those things with a good attitude and be a good person afterward, you’re doing okay.”
// Learn more about the B.A. in English Literature and Writing at Marylhurst University
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