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Graduates in Their Own Words

Graduates in Their Own Words

June 27, 2021

Dear WinkWorld Readers,

The graduation season is such a joyous and emotional time for all of us.  I have had the honor of taking part in graduation ceremonies, as a part of being a Board of Regents member.  This year, I was with the graduates of Black Hills State University.  I talked to the graduates about the various generations (Zers, Xers, Boomers, etc.), and I said that I didn’t think the general public had yet given them a name, but to me they will always be the COVID KIDS.  Since that graduation day, I have learned  about Gen C, and my grandson, Luke, and I are already planning to update our generation chart.

However, in this WinkWorld, I want to highlight COVID KIDS graduates, whom I know and love.  They are all heroes to me for different reasons.  I asked each of them to share 500 words with us about (a) how we are connected; (b) something about their interests; (c) something about their journey to a successful completion of this degree; (d) and, what they hope to be doing in 5 years.

Meet Katie Knox, University of North Carolina, MA in Teaching, Spring 2021

Katie and I have never met, but I feel like I know her well, as she  did all of the drawings in my book, “The Power of Story.”  Here are all of the drawings, which made it into the book.  We were only allowed 12.

My name is Katie Knox, and I was an illustrator for Joan Wink’s book, The Power of Story. My aunt—hi, Aunt Suzy!!—is Joan’s web designer, who connected us. My interests are varied to such an obnoxious extent that it would be challenging to detail them all here. To quote a one-episode villain from the cartoon Adventure Time, “I have approximate knowledge of many things.” I am particularly passionate about stories and storytelling, though, and that tends to go for any medium you can make a story in. My undergraduate degree was in Film Studies, where I concentrated on animation and animation history, but I’m passionate about everything from video games to musical theatre to obscure Japanese musicals from the early 90s. 

Speaking of Japan, at the time I met Joan, I was gearing up to move and teach ESL there as part of the JET Programme. I taught in Yokkaichi City in Mie Prefecture for three years and fell in love with teaching. I had the time of my life in Japan, and miss it every day, especially my students and former coworkers. Fortunately, in my mind, it’s not a matter of “if” I’ll return in some capacity, but rather, “when.”

I returned from Japan in 2019, applied for, and was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Watson College of Education. 355 days from the start of the program, I graduated with my Master of Arts in Teaching with a concentration in English. In spite of a global pandemic and the loss of a parent, I made it through the accelerated program, student teaching, Praxis exams and the edTPA. I feel like I both worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life and at the same time that I lucked through the whole program, and I technically didn’t earn this degree. A lot of people refer to this as imposter syndrome—the sensation that you’ve fooled everyone around you, failed upwards and will be found out as a fake sooner rather than later. At the same time, though, I know I’ve earned it, I know I’ve worked hard…. It’s such a bizarre sensation! Schrödinger’s Imposter Syndrome!

WinkWorld Readers, Joan here.  Dear Katie,  you are NOT an imposter.  Own your power and experience.  I know another recently-completed Ph. D. student who is also suffering from this.  I personally have only known smart women who suffer from Imposter Syndrome.  Do men get this? Back to Katie’s voice.

I wish I could give some big, hopeful, inspiring prediction for where I’ll be in five years, but I truthfully have no clue. If there’s anything I’ve learned during 2020 and grad school, it’s that you need to be flexible, and able to go with the flow when the time comes to the best of your ability. Right now, I’m aiming for gainful employment, helping kids find their “people” at school, another cat and maybe a trip to visit Japan. If I can do all of that and be happy, I’ve won.

Joan here again: Pearson Publishing did not use all of the drawings which we submitted.  The one below was not in the book, but it is one of my favorites.  It always makes me think of Katie and her dad, who passed away this year, while Katie was working on her masters.

Thanks for all, Katie. I worried so much about you when you left for Japan.  Silly me.  I guess I did not have anything to worry about.

Meet Nadifa Muhamed, South Dakota State University, Spring 2021

My name is Nadifa Mahamed. I was born in Chad, North Central Africa. My family left Chad when I was only nine months old due to the civil war and went to Cameroon where I grew up. On December 2, 2010, we arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, our new home. I graduated from Washington High School in May of 2015.

At that time I was not planning on going to college. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I felt that before I could do anything, I needed to learn more English. All through high school I was told that my knowledge of English was inadequate, I was bullied for speaking incorrect English, so why would I want to go to college and get bullied more? So I spent the next few months focusing on my English. I watched many movies and had conversations with English speaking friends.

During that time I was working in hospitality, my hours were crazy and my paycheck was never enough to make a comfortable living. I decided that this was not what I wanted out of life. My goal was to empower girls back home to go to school and get an education. I could not be an advocate for something I was not doing myself. I had to walk the walk. In January 2016 I started at the University Center (now Community College of Sioux Falls) with a major in sociology. I was very nervous about what going to college in the US would be like. I was shy, I had low self-confidence and I was still worried about my English. I was also concerned that people in my environment would not support my major, and some still don’t today.

In December 2017 I was asked by one of my teachers, Jennifer Schelske, to share my story with the South Dakota Board of Regents. I had no idea who and what that was. I agreed, as a favor to Jennifer because she had been so helpful and supportive ever since I started taking classes at the University Center. This meeting changed everything. The Regents were so touched and impressed by my story that they offered their support. President Dunn from SDSU made my transition to becoming an SDSU student very easy and continued to support me until I graduated. Regent Thares offered to pay my tuition until I graduated. This took away my constant worries about finances and allowed me to focus on my education. Regent Wink also had my back. She consistently showed her support and was only a phone call away. I graduated from South Dakota State University on May 08, 2021, with a major in sociology and minors in French, social and human services and leadership and management of non-profit organizations


WinkWorld Readers, Joan here again.  I remember Nadifa’s visit to our board, as if it was yesterday.  She came and she conquered.  I was in awe of her life’s story, her perseverance, and her ability to communicate in her new language, English.  When she walked out of the room, two of the other board members and I followed her out to the hallway.  I was not the only person who shed a tear or two as  she talked.


 When I was growing up in Africa in the middle of unrest and civil war, I witnessed many horrors of my people suffering and being mistreated, especially women and children. I made a promise to myself that one day I would do something about this. I am passionate about women’s rights, equality, family, the community and our youth. I am an advocate for peace and finding solutions that will bridge all people, all genders, all religions and all ethnicities together so we can achieve greatness. I am pushing myself to gain courage and strength to stand up for what’s right and to be a voice for the voiceless.  My goal for the future is to have a fashion company and a non-profit organization that empowers our women, youth and children – everyone included. Currently I am working on launching my fashion company and hopefully the website will go live soon.

Nadifa has a passion for fashion.


Meet Wynn Wink-Moran, University of New Mexico, with a degree in Film and Digital Media Arts (FDMA)

My name is Wynn Wink-Moran, and Joan Wink is my Grammie. She is one of the most inspiring women I have ever known, and I am so proud to be her granddaughter. Throughout my life she has been so supportive of any endeavor I chose. She taught me to love reading and nature and that life can be as beautiful as you make it. I have tried to employ these values within my own life, especially my education.

This year I am graduating as an undergrad at the University of New Mexico. I am graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Digital Media Arts with a specialization in film production. Film has always evoked passion in my personal life and spending four years learning about the ins and outs has only made me more interested in my degree. As an introvert escapism is where I truly thrive. Film is able to grant me that escapism through the stories and art they depict. Movies have brought me comfort since I was a child and I hope to produce that same comfort for children and adults everywhere. While my degree may seem impractical or inconsequential to some it has brought me an abundance of happiness and has helped me through many taxing situations.

My journey toward getting my diploma has been wonderful and complicated. When I first started in the fall of 2017 my original plan was to obtain a degree in Biology. Why did I choose this path? Who knows? I figured a STEM degree would be the most financially beneficial and that was the only thing I really cared about at that time. However, the more I progressed with this path the more I hated the work I was doing. I never knew I was so right brained until I took chemistry. While I could complete the work somewhat successfully, it felt as if my brain was going to explode every time I did my lab work. To those of you who thrive in careers centered around STEM I truly respect and admire you. For me it just was not the right fit.

I switched to film my sophomore year and started my new classes. I instantly felt more comfortable with myself and my abilities. I loved hearing my classmates’ creative ideas and how impressive everyone was. In the fall of my junior year I had suffered a lot of mental health setbacks and I did not complete my semester. While I was comfortable out of school I knew if I didn’t go back in the spring, I never would. So I enrolled and went back, took summer classes to catch up and here I am today. I have no immediate plans for work, but in five years I hope to be working on films that I care about and working with talented crews that I love. All I can ask is for happiness and growth with what may come next.

Wynn Eliz, I am so proud of you, and I love your honest, authentic writing. xo



Finally, WinkWorld Readers, I want you to meet Dean Austin Wink, who just graduated from DeForest, High School in Wisconsin.  He was named Dean Austin when born, but mostly he has been Austin to the family.  Throughout his high school  years, he seems to have morphed into another Dean Wink, as this is what his friends call him. Next year he will attend UW, Whitewater.  His is interested in music and all things culinary.  Austin is kind, honorable, and ambitious, and one can usually find him with a job cooking for someone.  Most recently, he is preparing meals at a country club – I am sure he is learning much.  In addition, Austin is a drummer and loves  all of the marching band activities.  He was sad not to get his senior year  with all of the music activities and fun.  COVID wrecked the senior year for so many. We are all looking forward to all of the kids being back in face-to-face school and activities.   We were happy we could be in WI for  Austin’s face-t0-face, lively, fun graduationBo and Lisa Wink, with their son,  Dean Austin Wink

Bo, Dean Austin, Garrett, and Lisa.  Garrett will be our last grandchild to graduate, which is 2 years away.




  • Barbara Skalina

    Dear Joan. I absolutely love all these stories.Congratulations on being involved in all these inspiring young lives!xoBarbara

  • Annabel Crites

    Thanks for sharing these graduates stories of resilience and success during this time of Covid. So different from mine years ago. I’m in admiration.

    • Joan Wink

      Hi Annabel, great to hear from you – yes, their lives are unique because of COVID. Stay tuned: Luke and I will updated a previous WinkWorld. xo

  • Congratulations go to you also, Joan. You started all this so many (77) years ago. Great stories that only you can bring to us. Thanks so very much. You have a great effect on peoples lives, especially your children and grandchildren.

    • Joan Wink

      Hi Bolo,
      Who are you? Obviously, we have known each other a long time. No 1977, but 1966 is when Wink and I moved to Philadelphia. He played football (Fly, Eagles, Fly), and I got my first teach job over at Great Valley High School in Malvern.

    • 77 years, not 1977. Think 1944
      Couple more posts and you will nail me

      • Ah, Great Valley High, I remember you talking about the glass walls in your classroom. Would it be possible to repost ‘They don’t teach you everything in college’ again? tia

  • LeAnn G Putney

    Thank you for sharing these refreshing stories. I love the passion, enthusiasm, flexibility and persistence these young adults have exhibited to carry them through the Age of Covidity! They are amazing and give us all hope for the future indeed.

  • Michelle Hawkins

    Joan, this was so wonderful to read, and I loved hearing from the extended Wink family. Congratulations to everyone.

  • Janet Tieell

    Dear Joan,

    Your post was so interesting and inspirational! I enjoyed reading about the graduation journeys of your grandchildren and the other amazing graduates.

    Thank you!!!!
    Janet xo

    • Joan Wink

      While working on that one, I kept wondering: Why am I doing this? Because they are so fascinating to me. I am working on a few more – you will know one or two. xo

  • Peg Minter

    Dear Joan, I’m so glad you introduced me to Wink World!
    I enjoy dipping in to your world, and viewing these rich stories! It’s wonderful to see how your involved with their successful lives❣️
    And so special to see about your Grandchildren’s stories!

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