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Leah Hollis
September 13, 2017 : Remembering Leah Hollis


Remembering Leah Hollis


As a writer, a duty is assumed whereby the one writing simply puts pen to paper and creates beautiful, haunting, compelling or extraordinary stories with the simple stroke of a pen or tap of a keyboard. It’s a natural ability to move the reader and provide insight into deep emotions or thoughts. But, how can a writer or writers, whose job it is to use words and phrases, describe such a deep loss at the passing of one of their own? The effect can be paralyzing as the words may never come to fruition to accurately describe the heart, soul and inherent being that transformed those around them.


This is the case for OUC student Leah Hollis, who passed away on Sept. 3, 2017, as we all are still struggling to find the right words to describe the wonderful human being she was.


Debra Nickles, Director of the Writing Center and friend of Leah described her journey as such: 


Leah Hollis began her studies as a nursing student at OUC in the fall of 2013 but soon discovered that she had what it took to develop and sustain life as a writer. She knew this would require a remarkable amount of time and energy to not only expand her reading but also to develop her own voice by figuring out just what it was that she wanted to say, to share with the world.


Leah approached her studies with vigor, curiosity, and certainly a marked sense of humor. She thrived on speculative fiction and giving voice to issues of social injustice. In the writing center, she conducted her sessions conscientiously and helped a great many fellow students succeed in their classes.


Leah was known for sharing a keen wit and remarkable intellect—she accomplished a lot on campus, including publication, while with us at OUC. Those who worked with her and knew her best will miss her tremendously. Even so, ultimately, we celebrate with moments of great joy the time Leah Hollis shared with us and all the words she left behind.


Fellow OUC student and tutor Morgan Bivens described Leah as a strong presence in the Writing Center, allowing her work ethic and dedication to writing set the standard for those around her.


“She always had coffee in her hand and was usually wrapped up in her ‘blanket of questionable origin,’” Bivens jokingly remarked. “She made the writing center feel homey and the tutors all feel like family.”


Bivens encountered the problem described earlier – that no words or actions would be good enough.


“Stringing together sentences about who Leah was can never fully grasp who she was and remains to be for us. She was a scholar, an activist, a poet, a writer, a tutor, a John Oliver fan, a friend, and so much more. But I think her presence carried more than all of that. She was a strong, inspiring woman. I am thankful that she chose to spend her time in the Fishbowl with us, and I know we all have learned so much from her,” Bivens noted.


 Dr. Tony Vinci, Leah’s academic advisor, friend and mentor, described her drive and fervor for pursing an education, even knowing she could possibly never finish, as one to be admired.


“This was a woman who knew she might never finish a degree or even make it to 30 at the outset, yet she chose to spend her time finding the right academic pathway to her,” Vinci remarked. “To me, this is an extraordinary symbol for the rest of us, that the word ‘academic’ to Leah didn’t mean simple or that insignificant thing you do. Knowing that she was going to have what would be considered a shortened life span, she chose to take classes knowing that there might not be a ‘pay off.’ That there might not be a professional goal, but that in my mind, Leah was going after the heart of education.”


Leah’s presence at OUC served as a reminder to others who knew her struggle, that they, too, could persevere in their educational endeavors.


Vinci described her passion as one that evoked anger at injustices - a courage to be furious at inequalities, prejudices, and unfair treatments – not at people or toward people.


Through his advising sessions with Leah, they were able to tackle grandiose ideas or intense concepts surrounding life, death, health, literature and philosophy. More recently, they had surmised a path forward for Leah’s education – a breakthrough of the sorts – in that she wanted to become an advocate for the terminally ill utilizing social and emotional contexts to help people navigate end of life care and the healthcare system.


“It was a really exciting direction and I’m thrilled that while she wasn’t capable of following through with that major, the fact that she got to the crystallization of ‘this is what I think I’m doing,’ makes me happy. It makes me feel like all this work was doing something for her,” Vinci said.


Vinci explained through the writing of Judith Butler, how the death of a person intricately affects us.


“Judith Butler says, that it’s never as though when you lose somebody, you lost someone ‘over there.’ We’re all interwoven, so when you lose somebody there’s a part of yourself that she held that you will never have access to again,” he explained. “So, it’s not just missing somebody or being sad for that person’s shortened life, it’s that her presence allowed people to access certain ideas, thoughts or feelings that were only available when Leah was there. Realistically, there’s a part of you that is no longer here.”


He continued, “That also means that there’s a part of Leah that only existed in each of us and now that she’s not here, there’s a piece of her in us that we cannot access. Nothing can fill it besides Leah, and she needed each of us to be a part of her, too – to be complete. “

Leah’s presence, no doubt, played an important part in so many people’s lives not only on the campus of OUC, but each person she came across.


Leah’s spirit will live on within the walls of this campus as will her legacy be carried forward by those who knew her well. Leah’s published writings are featured in past versions of “Glass Enclosures,” an OUC student publication of creative writings, available in the Quinn Library or through the Writing Center.