Nyla Holland named College of the Liberal Arts' spring 2021 student marshal

Nyla Holland, Penn State senior in African American studies and political science, will represent the College of the Liberal Arts as its student marshal and African American studies major marshal at the college’s spring 2021 commencement, on May 9 in Beaver Stadium. Credit: Emilee Spokus / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nyla Holland, Penn State senior in African American studies and political science, will represent the College of the Liberal Arts as its student marshal at the college’s spring 2021 commencement, which is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 9 in Beaver Stadium.

Holland will also represent students graduating from the Department of African American Studies as their major marshal. Her faculty marshal will be Candis Watts Smith, Brown-McCourtney Early Career Professor in the College of the Liberal Arts and associate professor of political science and African American studies.

“It’s an incredible honor to be selected as the student marshal for such a huge college,” said Holland, who will spend her first year after graduation completing her master’s degree in education policy in Penn State’s School of Public Policy. “The talent and scholarship are so expansive, and I am proud to be able to represent not only the African American studies department, but the College of the Liberal Arts as a whole.”

As a fully engaged student, dedicated leader within the campus community, and president of Penn State’s Black Caucus, Holland has consistently advocated for change and for amplifying the voices of students of color at the University.

"While our goals as an organization have always been to inform, uplift and support Black students, we were able to expand our advocacy work this past year,” Holland said. “As a spokesperson of Black Caucus, I have been able to work with administration, community organizations, and other students to work toward the demands that Black Caucus has put forth for decades. I am glad to have led a diligent team of students in bettering our community and experiences."

She recently received the Rock Ethics Institute’s 2021 Stand Up Award, which is awarded to students who demonstrate ethical leadership by standing up for a cause, idea or belief. Standing up for racial and social justice, Holland said she is devoted to creating a world where Black life is truly welcomed and valued.

She also serves as a peer mentor in BLUEPrint, a program focused on offering cultural, social and academic support to first-year students of color. She is also a co-chair for the Student Code of Conduct Task Force, the undergraduate liaison for the 3/20 Coalition, and the former executive director of the MLK Jr. Commemoration Student Committee.

Holland said that her many leadership roles and experiences have taught her about the importance of fostering strong communities.

“Community is not just the people who are similar to you,” she said. “You have to build, work at, and sustain a community. It gives people their sense of belonging and can even be fragile at times. But ultimately, when you have a strong community to lean on, it can truly bring you so much joy and make you learn a lot about yourself.”

Reflecting on her time as a Liberal Arts student, Holland emphasized how her well-rounded education has helped her prepare to solve problems and make an impact in the future.

“With all my courses — sociology, philosophy, African American studies, or even political science — I learned so much about society and the systems we live in," she said. "Having that knowledge, I am able to make a lot more sense out of the world, what is needed, and truly see how I can make a difference here.”

She noted that her courses also have given her a unique perspective on the world around her.

“My liberal arts education really expanded my perspective on the different roles that people can play,” said Holland. “There are so many different domains of knowledge, and when you put those together you are able to see a much clearer and more expansive picture of the world. I can place more value on these domains, such as English or anthropology, that are not always widely seen or celebrated.”

Holland hopes that she can continue making important contributions post-graduation. “I hope to just continue to serve and be helpful,” she said. “I’m not sure if I am going to work in local government, or with a nonprofit or activist organization; but I know that whatever I do, I still want to be in service and use my privileges and skills to continue the work I was doing here.”

For future Liberal Arts students, Holland recommends taking advantage of all the resources offered: “For the most part, college is what you make of it. If you want to make friends, you have to seek out organizations and clubs and get involved. If you want to make a difference, you have to actively search for the best ways to make an impact. If you want to expand your skills, you have to attend those workshops that are readily available to you.”

Ultimately, however, Holland said that finding things that bring you joy is what matters most.

“If you are able to do something you are passionate about — something that gives you joy — I really recommend you pursue those opportunities. Your involvements will help to sustain you so that you can continue to thrive throughout your time in college.”

Nyla Holland, Penn State College of the Liberal Arts' spring 2021 student marshal and African American studies major marshal, shares a special message with her graduating classmates. Credit: Nyla Holland

Last Updated April 28, 2021