Senior Orators: Elizabeth Mills

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

Elizabeth Mills ’13.5 said her Brown experience has been shaped by her love of teaching — the challenge of it and its humbling effects. “Teaching is my element,” she said.

As one of the directors of Generation Citizen, a program that teaches students in Rhode Island middle and high schools how to advocate for causes in their communities, Mills has discovered the classroom experience firsthand. The program is especially useful because it imparts practical skills rather than factual knowledge, which can be more fleeting, she said.

“In an academic context, you tend to generalize, or explain or identify. In an actual classroom you just have to roll with the punches. There’s no pedagogical tactic that can make you get a class to calm down and no theory that can explain” why one student is excited about learning while another does not care, she said.

Mills’ decision to concentrate in history grew out of her love of storytelling, she said. HIST 1740: “Civil War and Reconstruction” influenced her choice because she liked the way the class focused on themes and stories, rather than on facts.

In her spare time, Mills tells stories through her performances at 95 Empire, a black box theater in Providence.

TAPS 0220: “Persuasive Communication,” a classically Brown course, could be a metaphor for the entire Brown experience, Mills said, as students are taught to exercise their confidence in unfamiliar situations. Self-assured seniors enroll in the course and “then the first day comes when they have to deliver a speech, and the most confident, knowledgeable people are shaking, all looking at each other like no one wants to go first,” she said. Slowly, the students rebuild their confidence with the help of the professor and their classmates and become better communicators, she said.

Mills, a Washington, D.C. native, spent last semester on a leave of absence working at the White House. Her Commencement speech was informed by this experience in the working world, where she tried to “reconcile (her) Brown self with (her) office self,” she said. The experience left her reflecting on how to translate the “Brown mentality to the real world,” she said.

After graduating from Brown next December, Mills said she hopes to teach or do work in education policy.