As he sat in a college classroom in Tampa, Florida, in his early 20s, Michael Carlson listened to a lecture on modern American literature and immediately knew what he wanted to do with his life.
The path to a bachelor’s degree would be interrupted by personal struggles and tribulations, but Michael overcame them. Twelve years later, he is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English, creative writing — and will serve as one of the student speakers for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater commencement on Saturday, May 14.
He’s one of the 960 nontraditional undergraduate students — those who are earning a bachelor’s degree at age 25 or older — who are part of the Warhawk family. Carlson cites the support he received on campus as critical to his success.
“I needed the ability to work full time in Janesville while attending class in person,” he said. “The faculty and staff were really understanding of my needs as a nontraditional student and commuter.”
For nearly six years, Carlson worked at Boardtracker Harley-Davidson in Janesville, where he was responsible for managing Ecommerce operations. Currently, he works at DiMAX Office Solutions in Milton as a writer, marketer, and communications specialist.
One of Michael’s most influential mentors is Assistant Professor Barrett Swanson, an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and The Guardian.
“Telling stories is my way of making sense of the world,” said Carlson. “Barrett taught me that we all have shared pain and struggles and, in order to reach and help the reader, we must keep our attention on them. It’s easy to get lost in ourselves and our expectations. We need to be sensitive to someone’s humanity. He’s sensational like that.”
Carlson is the recipient of several UW-Whitewater honors, including the Kristine Grimsrud Memorial Scholarship (for English Creative Writing), Letters and Sciences Alumni Scholarship, Jack Heide Outstanding Major Award, Paul F. Grant Award (for English majors pursuing graduate school), and two University Writing Awards.
He is the co-editor in chief of The Muse, UW-Whitewater’s Literary Arts Magazine, and editor of Reading Film, the university’s Film Studies journal.
A Certified Level 1 CrossFit Trainer, Carlson hosts training sessions for friends at his home gym, free of charge, and enjoys supporting the fitness goals of others. He’s an avid marathoner, both road and trail.
Carlson has been accepted into the prestigious Creative Writing MFA Program at Vanderbilt University, which only accepts three fiction writers each year, to further his pursuit of becoming a published author and college instructor.
He celebrates this moment with the incredible women in his life — wife Kameo, mom Laura, and sisters Meredith, Ashley (a UW-Whitewater alum), Nikki, Sarah and Jessica.