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June 7, 2018
Vilune Sestokaite completed her bachelor’s degree this spring at Northwest Missouri State University in writing with a professional writing emphasis and is continuing her education as a graduate student this fall – a feat she didn’t envision even just a couple years ago.
Sestokaite immigrated from Lithuania to the United States with her mother, sister and grandmother when she was 4 and grew up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Now, as the first in her family to attend and graduate from a four-year university, she still fondly recalls her initial visit to the Northwest campus during a recruiting trip.
“What I felt was a sense of community,” she said. “Most of the students were wearing Northwest gear, and I’d been on a couple college campuses before and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such school spirit. At other schools, it’s almost like a weird thing to wear your own school’s clothing everywhere, but that wasn’t the case here. Then we walked over to the International Flag Plaza, and again I’ve never seen anything like it before, so that was another sense of inclusion.”
Sestokaite developed into a talented creative nonfiction writer at Northwest with the help of its valuable resources and supportive faculty, but it didn’t come easily. She came to the University as a business major and tried several other areas of study. Frustrated with her direction, or lack of it, during her third year at Northwest, she looked to Career Services for assistance.
“We talked about my interests and I really liked the gen eds that dealt with culture, literature and language,” she said. “I knew I liked reading in my free time, so I threw myself into the writing major and it was the best thing that I’ve done.”
“I didn’t know it was something that could flourish like it did,” she added.
Sestokaite developed connections in Northwest’s Department of Language, Literature and Writing that deepened her interest in her craft and opened her eyes to opportunities in the field. She interned with Northwest’s GreenTower Press and worked with the Laurel Review as a content assistant, reviewing hundreds of submissions and discussing content with the literary magazine’s team. Her work earned her the David T Slater Excellence in English Award.
She also became a member of the Sigma Tau Delta national honor society. That provided her the opportunity to travel in March to the society’s national convention in Cincinnati and present her original creative non-fiction piece, “Three Suitcases and 200 Dollars.” The story detailed her family’s immigration and her feelings of being “stuck in the middle” because she identified as Lithuanian and an American.
Reading the work of other writers and collaborating with peers who shared her passion helped her appreciate others’ ideas and hone her own writing style.
“Being with those peers and making those lifelong friends and making connections with those professors and really having them believe in me and where I was going, it was student success – every day,” Sestokaite said, referencing Northwest’s mission statement. “I think you really feel the sense of community. You’re getting all of the professors’ attention and they’re really working with you.”
Sestokaite also took advantage of networking with professional writers who visited Northwest as part of its Visiting Writers Series. Sestokaite accompanied the writers to dinner, interviewed them and eagerly purchased their books. After their visits, she exchanged emails with them.
“Every time I’d be waiting for that author to get on campus because I liked interviewing,” she said. “I liked interacting with them. I liked reading their manuscripts and having the whole department come together and be with that professor or that author. We gave them a welcoming environment and got to know them on a personal level, not as an author but as a friend.”
In the fall, Sestokaite will begin pursuing her Master of Arts in English with a concentration in creative nonfiction at Kansas State University. She aspires to launch her career in editing and publishing after completing her degree.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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