Family affair: Communication graduate reflects on generational path, support to Wayne State University

Wayne State University Department of Communication student Kate Vaughn graduated during the May 2024 Commencement and detailed her collegiate experiences below.

Kate Vaughn and her family at Wayne State University's 2024 Black Graduation. Left to right are Olivia, who attended WSU from 2014-2016, Gwen (class of 2026), Henry (in the back), Kate (class of 2024), Sophia (class of 2020), and Corinne (class of 2023).

My parents raised eight children. Eight very competitive children.

And having five sisters, all within two years of one another, meant anything from grades to athletics to height (I lost that one) were areas of competition.

In total, five of us went to Wayne State University — studying a combination of art, dance, film, computer science, journalism, and German. Naturally, GPAs were a topic of conversation and (sometimes) contention.

But having that many Warriors in the same family (grandma, M.Ed. ’71, and dad M.A. '99 as well) also meant we were there to support each other, whether it was registering for classes, driving to campus, or looking over each other's assignments.

This outcome made me truly appreciate how everything happens for a reason.

I wanted to forge my own path. But when I wasn’t accepted at my first-choice university, I quickly learned that Wayne State would open so many doors — in both my personal and professional life — that I can't imagine doing college anywhere else.

Kate Vaughn and Department of Communication Professor Alicia Nails (left), who is also the director of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity.

My older sister graduated WSU with honors the same year I started. Naturally, I then joined the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, too. Going straight into a university during a pandemic was … different. As a commuter student (and an introvert), it also meant during my freshman year I only went on campus twice — each time to receive a COVID vaccination.

I took my first semester to get acquainted with a college workload before looking into writing for the school newspaper. The South End was where I really grew as a journalist.

After a semester of picking up stories and learning the ropes, TSE's then-managing editor, Jenna Prestininzi (currently at the Detroit Free Press), said I should apply for a permanent position and news editor, Nour Rahal (now at FOX 2 Detroit), encouraged me to join the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity (JIM).

Department of Communication Professor Alicia Nails, who is also the director of JIM, held me to high standards while ensuring I had the tools and skills to achieve them. I was not only surrounded by my peers at WSU, but also granted access to a network of "JIM grads" who were now in their professional careers. People I'd never met were willing to look over my articles and suggest edits.

The South End was my proving ground. I learned quickly not to take it personally, as my articles were deconstructed and rearranged. My editors — fellow JIM members and friends — were pivotal in molding the journalist I am today.

Group photo of current (2023-2024) Journalism Institute for Media Diversity members taken during the April 26, 2024, Spirit of Diversity Awards. Left to right: Top row: Lauren Myers, Angela Martinez, Akeel Ahmed, Mariam Kebe. Middle row: Aya Fayad, Shawntay Lewis. Bottom row: Ashley Harris, Domonique Russell, Kate Vaughn.

When I tell someone, I study journalism and German, their first question is usually "Why German?" Well, long story short, I've been nosey my entire life (my mom frequently referred to me as the "fly on the wall" at family gatherings).

As a child when my dad was watching documentaries and someone spoke German, I wanted to know what they were saying. This desire preceded my ability to read English fast enough to keep up with the subtitles. Naturally, my younger self decided the only option was to learn German.

Kate Vaughn holds a "Lebkuchenherz" (gingerbread heart) during Munich's annual Frühlingsfest (spring festival) (May 1, 2023).

Fast forward to freshman year in college where I learned about WSU's Junior Year in Munich (JYM) — the United States’ oldest study abroad program in Germany — during the online FestiFall. I immediately planned how I would complete the prerequisites, changed my German minor to my second major, and decided that when my junior year rolled around, I would be in Europe.

Kate Vaughn hikes down the German mountain "Jägerkamp" during her year abroad (June 8, 2023) with Wayne State University's Junior Year in Munich.

As I learned about German art, film, history, and culture, it was the little accomplishments that reassured me of my progress. I still remember the first time I had a thought in German and the first time I asked a stranger a question without rehearsing the words in my head. During our semester breaks, I enrolled in additional language classes, traveled, and met people from all over the world. By the time I returned, I had passed my telc-B2 exam.

The only reason I was able to afford studying abroad and school in general was the numerous scholarships and grants Wayne State made available to me. And now I am moving on from my time here with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism (print and online) and German with an Honors co-major and zero debt.

WSU enabled me to learn about both the world and my own backyard and was fundamental in supporting me through my next steps. Whether those steps are working, going back for a master's degree, or a Fulbright scholarship, I still don't know.

But what I do know is that because of Wayne State University, I have the means and ability to succeed anywhere I go. And I graduate with the obligation to continue the cycle I have benefited from by making myself generously available to the next generation of Warriors.

Feel free to reach out to Kate at with any questions about the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity (JIM) or Junior Year in Munich (JYM).

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