When Monica Fikes graduates with a degree in Agricultural Leadership and Community Education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, she does so acknowledging her own hard work as well as the legacy of her family.

“Although it’s taken longer than I anticipated, I am leaving with a degree that includes my interests and pairs well with my values. I’m excited to work alongside communities of color, reconnecting to the land, creating spaces to live, and to be authentic,” said Fikes, of Alexandria, Virginia. “In the last year, I’ve learned my degree and career path also align with who my ancestors were. One side of my family, in the 1800s, were farmers and blacksmiths. On the other side, they were educators. I’m the sum of many parts and it’s significant to actually see that.”

The path to commencement was not always easy for Fikes. Personal growth and discovery were just as important to her as getting a degree.

“Because of the identities I hold, I was tested here in a way I may not have been elsewhere,” she said. “There were times I wasn't sure if I'd be finishing my degree at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg will always be a special place because I grew so much in the time I’ve spent here. I am more confident in who I am. I see more clearly what I bring to a table. I’m proud of this accomplishment, particularly grateful for the growth and the access to opportunities being a Hokie provided.”

Fikes’ advice to current students as they continue their Virginia Tech journey is, “Be honest with yourself. If something is not working for you, change something, do something. Ask for help even if you don’t know how to articulate it. Sometimes there’s a benefit in simply talking through a process with someone else. And take advantage of all the opportunities on campus to travel the country and abroad!”

Among the highlights of her experience at Virginia Tech, Fikes lists witnessing, with her family, “Sheer Good Fortune: Celebrating Toni Morrison,” a tribute to the acclaimed author and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, orchestrated by renowned poet and Virginia Tech’s University Distinguished Professor of English Nikki Giovanni. Another standout memory is missing a flight to Ecuador on a Crop and Soil Science study abroad trip. Fikes also gives a nod to the ginger cookies at Gillies.

What she will miss, she said, is “being able to drop in to spaces around campus to say ‘hi’ to folks I appreciate and admire; the perks of being a student; and the Black Cultural Center and the Cultural and Community Centers staff.”

Kimberly Williams, assistant director of the Black Cultural Center, said Fikes welcomed her to her new position by taking her out to lunch.

“We talked about her experience and love for community, justice, and healing work," Williams said. "Since then, I learned about Monica’s work with community building and social justice, like with her work in Floyd and farming. She brings inspiration, knowledge, patience, honesty, and an unyielding love to her community. Although her voice is soft, her dedication against oppression is loud and direct. I admire her love and kinship she offers to each Black Culture Center student. I wish we had the funding and support to enact her creative ideas! I look forward to her future story.”

Following graduation, Fikes said, “I’m looking forward to working with the soil and contributing to more just food systems while preparing for grad school. I also want to read the works of Nnedi Okorafor, an international award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism."

Written by Sandy Broughton.