Arts and Features Writer
UNC Asheville alumni talk about their experiences and how it helped shape their future.
Amarra Ghani, a 31-year-old alumna, recipient of the Francine Delaney Award for Service to the Community, the executive director of Welcome Home, a grassroots non-profit project catering to relief and resettlement in the greater Charlotte area, Program Podcast Manager at Muslim American Society National and works full time at a financial institute. Ghani graduated in 2012 with a major in mass communication as a first generation graduate and daughter of immigrants.
“It was more for my parents to kind of skip through and make sure they knew that whatever they did, however they got me through college and how they supported me wasn’t just in vain,” she said.
During her time at UNCA Ghani struggled with confidence and a sense of belonging. Eventually, her yearning for belonging, along with stories from her friend’s colleges Muslim Student Association, inspired her to co-found UNCA’s own MSA.
“At that time I didn’t know what I was creating. I was just doing it because I was thinking that this is what I have to do. But later on I saw how influential and how beneficial those spaces were for me and for my understanding,” she said.
Ghani said her favorite memories from UNCA were those when she collaborated with other students who she would not have associated with, especially those in the MSA.
“All of them were non-muslims, my entire board was all non-muslims,” she said. “They were the ones who were serving on this Muslim board and that opened my eyes to how willing people are to learning about one another.”
After graduation, Ghani worked as a journalist for six years, working for the National Forest Service, interning for NPR through different streams of broadcast and working as a writer for Lake Norman Publications in Charlotte. While working as a journalist, Ghani let her anxieties and lack of confidence fuel her drive for improvement.
“Anxiety is always going to be there, you just need to repurpose it and see where it fits. The anxiety isn’t going to go away because that’s human nature, so you just have to find where it belongs,” she said.
As she worked, Ghani said she still felt the pressure to meet others’ expectations but she lessened the pressure by figuring out what she was good at.
“I beat myself up so much and I killed myself trying to do things that I didn’t even have to do to prove myself,” she said.
During her late twenties, Ghani finally overcame those societal pressures and understood that falling was not failing.
“I don’t have to be extra perfect, I don’t have to meet every single goal because that’s not real, that’s not what’s going to happen, and that’s not what’s needed from me,” she said. “Those expectations that you think you need to meet are not real, whatever expectations you have for yourself, those are the expectations you need to fulfill.”
Ghani said her advice for graduating seniors is to build community and to always ask for help. She said life does not get better but instead you get better at handling things.
“Community over competition,” Ghani said. “It’s better to have support than to be alone because there are a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities where you are going to be alone. Don’t let this be it.”
Shannon Davis, a 46-year-old alumna and recipient of the Order of Pisgah award, works as a professor at George Mason University. Davis graduated in 1997 with a BA in sociology as a first-generation graduate student.
“I had no idea what I was gonna do after I graduated,” she said.
After graduating, Davis took a year off to decide if she wanted to go to graduate school. During that time, she worked two part-time jobs and struggled to find employment and eventually her failures in job searching led her to pursue higher education.
“If I had done that straight after undergrad, I don’t know if I would have been emotionally ready. I don’t know if I would have been as ready for that commitment,” she said “That year gave me the space to think and make a choice that was reasoned and that ended up working out well for me.”
Originally Davis planned on becoming a math teacher, but after taking a sociology class to fulfill a general education requirement, she changed her major to sociology.
“Evolution, Revolution and Social Change with Keith Bramlett. I changed my major halfway through the semester,” she said.
Davis reflected fondly on one of her chemistry classes and how the learning and teaching environment impacted her and her approach to teaching students.
“That’s the kind of impact that I want to have on students who are not sociologists who take my class,” she said. “I love being in the classroom, I love seeing the moment when students change their orientation to the content because it makes different sense to them.”
Davis said she regrets not taking advantage of the career center and advises students to utilize it or to find smart people who they trust to ask questions.
“Giving advice on what not to do is almost as valuable if not more than what to do,” the professor said.
Davis said an important process to her growth was learning how to accept productive failure.
“You try, you take a risk, it’s not perfect and then you sort of figure it out from there. What did I learn from this,” she said. “I wasn’t doing it all by myself. I had a strong group of friends who were around me and we navigated it together.”
Paul Enderle, a 22-year-old alumnus graduated in 2020 with a major in accounting, said his graduation experience was bittersweet due to COVID-19.
“My family did a drive-by with signs saying congratulations and that was when it hit me that this is the end. I am now in a new chapter of my life,” he said.
Enderle said his favorite memories were when he cooked Sunday dinners for his friends.
“We would joke around and tell stories for hours and when everything got busy, it was a great way to connect,” he said.
During his freshman and sophomore years, Enderle struggled with his course load, studying and writing skills but took advantage of the writing center and refocused his behavior.
“I am still afraid of failure, but now have the mental fortitude and skills to face it head-on,” he said.
At a young age, Enderle became interested in finance. He opened a retirement fund and began investing through his mother at the age of seven and twelve. In high school, his teachers told him he was too stupid to go to college, but Enderle was determined to get into accounting.
“Don’t let anyone take away who you were meant to be,” he said.
As he learned more, Enderle realized how little he knew. He said UNCA taught him the willingness to learn.
“You have to ask questions and have conversations with people different from you,” he said. “That is how you can learn to be kinder to others and make a positive impact.”