Lakeland University Blog

A sense of gratitude: LU senior’s degree a tribute to her mother

A sense of gratitude: LU senior’s degree a tribute to her mother


A sense of gratitude: LU senior’s degree a tribute to her mother

Lakeland University senior Amy Moua wrote the following story as part of her advanced composition class this spring. Moua is majoring in writing and psychology.

For Rachel Pagel, who was raised by a single parent in Pulaski, Wis., the idea of attending a private school was daunting. “My mom built boats for 25 years,” Pagel shared. “She polished and scrubbed yachts; she worked in a factory. I had to take care of her when she got her knees replaced because of all the damage it’s done to her body.”

Silence briefly took over The Mirror’s office on the third floor of Lakeland University’s Old Main Hall as Pagel reflected on her upbringing. “She had to be my mom and dad. I only had her.”

From humble beginnings, she watched as her mother, Connie, got a degree as an administrative professional at the age of 50 as she juggled working nights and clearing assignments, all the while sending her two children to their afterschool extracurricular activities. With her mother putting in the hard work to keep the family afloat, a fear of losing their home and the unknown of the future propelled Pagel to want to climb the ladder of success and start her life on the right foot. Pursuing a higher education would burden her family financially, but Pagel was determined to succeed as she held a significant reason that continued to push her forward.

Pagel is graduating with academic honors from Lakeland this spring with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing, the first Lakeland student to earn the degree.

Her aspirations are deeply rooted in the sense of gratitude she felt towards her mother. "If she didn’t drive me around Wisconsin to tour colleges, I wouldn’t be here." Pagel remarked on the significance of pursuing her education, asserting, "my education is not about me. I want my mother to retire and take my family out of poverty. It’s about creating the life I wish I had growing up."

Pagel expressed determination to repay her mother’s sacrifices, “I’m using what I can to better my situation and life,” she said, emphasizing, “I always felt that my education was something I could control.”

Her high school counselor, Sarah (Diehlmann) Tulppo ’17 MAC, helped navigate Pagel to Lakeland. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t afford a private school, are you kidding me?’” Pagel said.

She recalled their conversation from her junior year in high school where Tulppo helped her fill out the FAFSA form. Despite Pagel’s initial worries about finances, it was qualifying for the Lakeland Promise scholarship that made her tour the campus twice and commit.

She started her freshman year as an undecided major. Pushing through distributional classes, she once considered focusing on environmental science or going fully into graphic design. Instead, it was through the writing in the genres class with Associate Professor of Writing Jodie Mortag, who saw Pagel’s potential and eventually scooped her up. “I’m very loyal and Professor Mortag was the first to trust me, and I stuck by her,” Pagel said.

She found that it was through writing, especially for The Mirror, Lakeland’s student-run news website, that gave her opportunities to interview and meet people she never thought possible.

While she continued to refine her writing skills, Pagel faced a pivotal moment when her mother expressed concern about her chosen path. During her junior year, she had gone home for spring break and was reviewing a feature story her professor had graded. She vividly recalled the moment her mother looked at the paper covered in red ink with corrections and revisions, and questioned, “you really want to be a writing major?” Momentarily, Pagel admitted that encounter caused her to doubt her abilities.

“I know she was being concerned about me, about what I was investing my money into,” Pagel said. “My mom saw it as I’m not good, but I believe those red marks was Professor Mortag believing in me and wanting me to be better.”

Pagel expressed immense gratitude for the writing department at Lakeland as they helped her when she needed support the most. “Personally, I feel like I have gained a group of aunts,” Pagel said.

She shared details of visits to the third floor of W.A. Krueger Hall, seeking out any open door of her writing professors in a familiar course of security during challenging times. “It feels like they’ve adopted me,” Pagel said. “They’ve become my closest supporters and believers. They’re my cheerleaders and would fight for me.”

Not only have the writing professors opened their doors to Pagel for support and comfort during difficult times, but they have also provided her with valuable opportunities for internships. She had a sophomore year internship with Nourish, facilitated by Mortag, where she was assigned to write their annual impact report. This early opportunity affirmed Pagel's capabilities and boosted her confidence in pursuing a career in writing. Pagel took advantage of various resources through the mentorship and guidance of her writing mentors to become a leader herself.

Aimee Burns, LU assistant professor of communications, who also supervises The Mirror, witnessed Pagel's growth from a timid, but thoughtful reporter and photographer to her rise as editor-in-chief. “She helped me take a step back,” Burns said. “Seeing her growth, along with the milestones (of The Mirror), showed me the importance of student leadership in a classroom and beyond.”

Having seen Pagel flourish through the years, Burns emphasized, "She’s the example of what The Mirror hopes to bring to the future.”

Subsequently, Pagel was involved in a series of internships, each contributing to her professional development and affirming her career path. She worked as a corporate communications intern for Associated Bank, gaining recognition and a fist bump from the CEO as well as validation of her skills. Another internship at the Ozaukee Nonprofit Center allowed her to create promotional materials, such as pamphlets, which further harnessed her designing abilities.

Pagel's diverse internship experiences not only provided practical skills but also solidified her passion for communication and writing in a professional setting. She earned 17 academic credits toward graduation through LU’s Cooperative Education program.

On her past internship experiences, Pagel recognized the value of her personality and interpersonal skills in securing opportunities.

“It’s about making people laugh and that’s always been my successful mantra even with internships that I don’t get, because the places I interview with, they’ll still comment on my posts in LinkedIn,” Pagel said. “It’s never personal, and even if they didn’t pick me, they still like me as a person and that matters more to me.”

After graduation, Pagel will continue to build on her experiences and accomplishments through a position with Wisconsin Physician Service (WPS) as a communication intern. A WPS interviewer stated Pagel's writing sample was the most impressive of all applicants. Utilizing the skills and experiences acquired through Lakeland, Pagel's ability to write at a professional level in a corporate setting is what sets her apart in the job market.

Starting from humble beginnings, Pagel has grown into a resilient and accomplished individual who is ready to take on the next chapter of her life with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility. Lakeland became the foundation where she could shape her future.

As she reflected on the unwavering support of her family and the writing department that "adopted" her, Pagel said, “It’s emotional; they’re all connected to the core of who I am.”

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