Heron Greenesmith, a 2004 graduate of the University Honors Program, majored in Linguistics with a focus in Russian. After graduation, Heron volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ukraine, where she worked as an English teacher by day and an LGBT advocate by night. Heron went on to graduate from American University, Washington College of Law, and now serves as Legislative Counsel for the Family Equality Council. Below, Heron reflects upon her time at UNH.
Heron, what is your background?
I’m from Rhode Island, where my parents still live. I lived in Providence through middle school, then moved to Cranston. When I was young, I remember strongly wanting to be an astronaut. I loved stars and dinosaurs and science, but I’m also slightly claustrophobic so it was a relief to find that astronauts need perfect vision and that my glasses made me ineligible. The next memory I have is of wanting to be an ambassador and travelling across the world. That dream came true.
Why did you decide to attend UNH? What was your major?
I decided to go to UNH because I wanted a college experience that was far from my parents, but not too far, and a tuition that wouldn’t cost too much. I was so grateful to get the incredible financial aid package that I received from UNH and after visiting the campus, which was gorgeous, I decided to go! I majored in linguistics with a focus on Russian language.
Were you part of any organizations, bands, volunteer services?
Freshman and sophomore year I was in the percussion line of the marching band. I tutored ESL students, mostly graduate students, up through Junior year, and I was a Seacoast Reads volunteer in my sophomore year (I think!). Junior year, I joined Alabaster Blue, the co-ed acapella group. AB was one of the best things that happened to me at UNH – I made my best friends, found my confidence, and really felt at home in the UNH community.
How did the Honors Program contribute to your experience at UNH?
Being part of the Honors Program was an incredible boon to my years at UNH. I felt more confident applying for my Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (which I was awarded).
What is your most significant memory as an Honors student? Did you have any outstanding courses or professors?
The best thing that happened to me at UNH was meeting my advisor and favorite professor Naomi Nagy. Professor Nagy opened the world of linguistics to me in ways that I would never have found through my own exploration. Although I've moved away from linguistics now, her training and philosophy stick with me. Most importantly, her socio-linguistic philosophy has deeply influenced my personal philosophy towards the law and social advocacy. I came from a place of prescriptive dichotomy and left with a full understanding of how linguistics and the law should reflect each individual’s lived experiences.
Did you write a thesis while at the Honors Program?
I wrote a grammar/English teaching thesis on how sentence-combining can be used as a pedagogical tool.
What did you do after graduation?
The October after graduation I left for my Peace Corps service in Ukraine, where I served as an English teacher by day. By night (and on the weekends, and frankly, in all of my free time) I served as the co-chair of the LGBT volunteers group, worked on HIV/AIDS prevention in my town, and worked on the Gender and Development Council, organizing summer camps for girl leaders. After Peace Corps, I went to American University, Washington College of Law, and now I’m legislative counsel with Family Equality Council, advocating for federal regulatory reforms on behalf of the 3 million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and their 6 million children.
What are a few exciting things you’ve been doing in recent years?
I have done a lot in recent years! The Peace Corps, law school, publishing legal articles, passing two Bar Exams, working at Family Equality. I moved from DC back to Boston. I serve on the Board of Directors for the National LGBT Bar Association. I volunteer with BiNet USA. I love to crochet and read and write.
Is there any advice you would like to share with UHP students?
I would advise students in all phases of their school tenure to find something they are passionate about and give it their all. It doesn't matter if that passion lies in academia, or music, or video games, or blogging, or quilting. Passion, like water, will find its way.