Amazing Students

Griffin Hamstead

Griffin Hamstead outside Park Hall, home of the English department. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

English major Griffin Hamstead has been able to study around the world, from Vietnam to Iceland, Denmark, Portugal and Morocco. But he’s at home at UGA and has been actively involved in campus activities and community service.


Knoxville, TN

High school:

West High School

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:

B.A. English

Other degrees:

Spanish minor, Sustainability Certificate

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

I feel incredibly blessed that my path in this life has been lined with remarkable experiences, invaluable mentors, kind friends and a loving family. (Special shout-out to my mom and dad for everything they’ve done to help me succeed as a student and, more importantly, as a person.) Since beginning my studies at the University of Georgia, I have seen myself grow and change in ways I could never have anticipated. That, too, is a gift for me.

I was offered the Foundation Fellowship after interviewing for the program during my senior year of high school. This has provided me with incredible access to faculty and stimulating conversations about a variety of topics beyond the scope of my academic degree programs. The community of students is truly amazing, and has often inspired hope in the times when I felt hopeless. As someone pursuing a career in the creative arts, I have never felt pressure from those around me (professionally or personally) to do anything other than chase my dreams. I couldn’t trade a support structure like that for the world.

I am also fortunate to belong to the national community of Stamps Scholars, which has helped to fund many of my wonderful collegiate experiences.

I have participated in numerous book discussions in the Fellowship and the Honors Program, and currently co-lead an existential books thread with others in the program. The Fellowship has also allowed me to travel to places I had only dreamed of seeing before attending UGA.

During the spring of my first-year, I spent 10 days in Vancouver, Canada, interning with the TED Fellows Program at the 2017 TED Conference. I also visited New York for the first time, thanks to the Fellowship spring break programs. That summer, I studied Shakespeare under Ben Morgan at Oxford University. After the program at Oxford, I backpacked through Europe for five weeks, a journey I plan to remember for the rest of my life. Last spring break, I was able to travel to Vietnam with a group of Fellows to study Buddhism with Hyangsoon Yi. This trip changed the way I saw the world. I had never been to the global south, Asia, or a developing nation and was able to experience a portion of all of those by being in Vietnam. Dr. Yi was also an incredible guide and teacher. This past summer, I was able to travel through Iceland, Denmark, Portugal and Morocco reading critical literary works by authors of those countries and writing in dialogue with their ideas. The result of that trip is a chapbook-length collection of poems I am actively working to publish.

The creative writing courses I have taken at UGA are academic highlights of my time here. The workshop style of the course is incredibly helpful as a writer, and has allowed me to improve tremendously in the craft. I was able to edit one of the poems I wrote for my “Introduction to Creative Writing” class into a piece published by Process, a journal of multidisciplinary undergraduate scholarship. The poem (“The Disunited State of America”) appears in Volume 2, Issue 1: On Politics.

I also have some publishing history with a well-known campus publication, The Red & Black. I worked as a staff writer for the news desk for most of my first-year, where I was exposed to local politics and grassroots political activism taking place in Athens. My favorite article to write was a project undertaken with a colleague to produce the first bilingual article in the Red & Black’s history, which featured the organization Dignidad Immigrante en Athens and their organized march in downtown Athens following the 2016 election.

Upon returning from my summer travels this year, I worked again with the Red & Black during July for the culture desk. I was able to explore stories about the music scene in Athens, attending concerts, speaking with producers and musicians, and writing another personal favorite story on the cassette tape revival.

I originally stepped away from the Red & Black after being elected to a position as a senator for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in the Student Government Association Senate. During that term, I was also a student representative on the University Council. Serving this term was inspired by my time on Freshman Board, the appointed representatives of the first-year class. I was thrilled to be chosen for board and used my place as a representative in the Senate to pass legislation providing greater transparency for club dues on the Involvement Network. This program was also invaluable for my professional development and I made many terrific and lasting friendships in the program over the course of my first year that made Athens feel like home more quickly than I could have imagined. Shout-out to them and their support!

I had a terrific enough experience that I felt called to provide something meaningful to the next group of incoming students. I interviewed for and was chosen to be a co-director for the program now called First-Year Senators. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life to date. It means a great deal to me to be able to mentor and guide first-years toward achieving the changes they see for the University of Georgia and provide personal and professional support for them as they move beyond their first year. The first-year students I direct are all superstars and my co-director encourages me to be better by simply being herself, never providing anything but support. Shout-out to all of them too, and the 31st SGA at large!

Beyond SGA, I have also been fortunate enough to serve in the capacity of a mentor in other ways while at UGA. I have been an Honors teaching assistant for the last two fall semesters, instructing first-year Honors students in professional academic behavior, skills for dealing with the challenges of school and access to opportunities. I also spent this semester getting credit toward my Spanish minor by volunteering at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in a dual-language immersion kindergarten classroom. Both of these mentorship experiences have reminded me of how important giving back and investing in my community is. I will be the first to admit that I have not served others at the level I could have or should have so far during my career at the University of Georgia, and this is a goal of mine moving forward.

I have also had several meaningful work experiences during my undergraduate career. In addition to the internship with the TED Fellows Program, I have interned with Avid Bookshop in Athens during the spring of 2018 and, this semester, provided research support for a documentary project focused on mental health on college campuses. Both of these taught me a lot about their industries (publishing and bookselling, documentary production) and the people who oversaw my role in both organizations were terrific, helpful and understanding.

At the end of my first-year, I was selected as one of 24 first-years to be inducted into the Tate Honors Society, named in honor of Dean William Tate. This was a great honor to me, and introduced me to many movers and shakers across this campus who inspire me with their tremendous work.

Lastly, I’ll just touch on a few other highlights: reading my poetry at open mic nights around campus and the city, trips to the North Georgia mountains with great friends, concerts at the Georgia Theatre, a film screening with a Korean Buddhist nun hosted by Dr. Yi, mornings this summer volunteering at UGArden, my brief stint with the Fencing Club of UGA, laughing on the sideline of IM games at my and my friends’ lack of athletic prowess and cheering on the Dawgs in Sanford!

Nothing I say could overstate the importance of my support system. There is simply too much I have to say in praise of all those who have impacted my journey, and of this university. I will say, instead, a massive thank you to everyone who has been alongside me through any portion of this. I get very caught up in my own path, my own goals and fears, and often fail to recognize those beside me. In the instances where I have felt truly alone in college, it is a comfort beyond words for me to realize that I never truly was. The kind words and rambling conversations, remembered or otherwise, are some of the most precious moments I have enjoyed at UGA, and I so look forward to the rest of this chapter in my life and whatever it holds. So seriously, to everyone, thank you.

I chose to attend UGA because …

My path to choosing UGA began with a visit in the summer before my senior year. Despite rain on my tour, I loved the campus and city. After coming back to interview and being offered the Fellowship, I knew UGA was where I was meant to be. I knew I wanted to come to UGA when, after my last visit, I was on my way to my high school (one direction on the interstate) and so wanted to drive to Athens instead (the other way on the interstate). Still, if there is one quality that brought me to UGA above all else, it was the caliber of people I met when visiting here.

My favorite things to do on campus are …

Cheering on the Dawgs in Sanford (duh!), a walk through the Founders Garden or on the trails behind the IM fields, catching lunch at Snelling and giving Ms. Sandra a hug, running into friends and having a quick chat or a wave, stringing up my Eno with a good book outside the MLC, and taking time to go to Ramsey. The Georgia Museum of Art is also definitely worth a visit!

When I have free time, I like …

I try to read and write as much as I can in my free time. I do this partly to improve my writing, partly because I’ve loved books ever since I can remember and can’t seem to get enough of the good ones. I generally try to consume a lot of media: TV shows, movies, podcasts, music. I’m always so impressed with expressions in art of our mutual human experience. We are a story-telling species and I am obsessed with those stories and all the ways we tell them.

When the weather isn’t horrible, I love to be outside. I grew up hiking and camping, and definitely still enjoy both of those activities. Even reading or passing the time with a friend somewhere green (like North Campus) is preferable to being inside on a beautiful day.

I’m more addicted to caffeine than I’d care to admit, which means I enjoy hopping around some of Athens’ best coffee spots. Sometimes to work, other times simply to enjoy conversation with a good friend and a good roast.

I also enjoy games of all kinds. I’m never one to pass on a good board game night, a pick-up basketball game or cards with friends.

And, of course, the classic college student activities like shooting the bull with friends about everything under the sun (whether or not we know anything about the topic) and a well-earned afternoon nap!

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

One day while exploring the ancient city of Hoi An in Vietnam, I rented a motorcycle off a local and rode it through the rice paddies out in the country. I had never driven a motorcycle before, let alone on the crowded Vietnamese streets. I had to cross a half-mile, narrow metal bridge over the river on the way out of the city. The sights were beautiful, and it was a wildly freeing experience. It was a rush, to say the least!

My favorite place to study is …

… Walker’s! They have a great study atmosphere, plus great breakfast burritos. The perfect spot to start a productive morning.

My favorite professor is …

… a leading prompt that alienates so many of the great professors I’ve had at UGA! I could not possibly name all the professors, teachers and mentors who have positively shaped me into the person I am today, and I similarly could not express my gratitude to them in so little a space. Thank you, to all of them.

I have to thank associate professor Cody Marrs for inspiring me to study English. I first took Dr. Marrs for my American Literature survey (pre-1865), where we studied great American writers like Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson among others. I fell deeper in love with literature and writing than I already had entering college as a result of this course. Dr. Marrs was such a great teacher that I am currently taking him again for a class on Mark Twain. His insight is profound and taking him has been a joy.

Assistant professor Maggie Zurawski is who I first took for creative writing. I had been interested in pursuing creative writing for a while, but this was my first introduction to a course on the topic. Dr. Zurawski provided an open and stress-free environment to be creative and that was invaluable in the midst of the crazy and crowded academic semester.

Andrew Zawacki is not only a brilliant professor, but is also dedicated to his students, which I greatly appreciate. I took Dr. Zawacki for an English criticism and culture seminar on the Greek tragedy of Antigone. I had never read the play before and as a result of the course now feel much more informed about so many topics, including the ubiquity of Antigone’s struggle against oppression globally and historically, gender and family studies, the nature of Ancient Greek thought in addition to much more.

Ron Balthazor is also a member of the English faculty, although my interactions with him have been through the Sustainability Certificate program. Dr. Balthazor always brings a light-heartedness and supporting smile into my week, and that is a gift. The Sustainability Certificate in itself has been a tremendous program to take part in and I know that much of that is owed to the work of Dr. Balthazor and Melissa Ray.

As a note, I have been absolutely blown away by the summative quality of professors and courses in UGA’s English Department. Park Hall has become a second home to me, and I would highly recommend to anyone mildly interested in any period or genre of literature to explore the department’s course offerings. This, of course, also bears a thank you to those in Park who make the department all that it is.

Professor Stephen Berry is likely the best story-teller I have encountered in my time at UGA. His lectures were by turns engaging, funny, enlightening and dramatic. His class on the U.S. Civil War satisfied every itch my Civil-War-history-buff self could have imagined. The research I did for that class was rewarding, the readings and lectures were perspective-opening and Dr. Berry was absolutely fantastic.

Again, there is not the room here to mention everyone I could, or should, and I am indebted to all those who have shaped my academic career.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

I struggled to answer this question, most of all. There are so many people, alive or dead, I would want to spend the afternoon with. Still, I decided to settle on poet Anis Mojgani.

Anis Mojgani’s poem “Shake the Dust” inspired me to first start writing poetry when I was 16, a decision that has informed much of my current life trajectory. I would love to pick his brain and talk to him about his life, his experiences growing up and how he made the decision and committed to being a poet and writer. I know I would feel inspired after spending several hours with him and his energy. I also owe him a huge thank you, if I ever got the chance to tell him so.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

If I truly could not fail, I would build a non-invasive time machine that allows the user to safely observe any event in history without altering its course. Where to go is a fun hypothetical to debate, but I can imagine building and using it would be even better!

If I had to obey the law of physics, I’d probably run for political office so I could campaign and advocate for the policies and values I strongly believe in without the threat of losing. I would hope to bring more kindness and compromise into the political sphere.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… spend several years thru-hiking around the United States and the world. I have never attempted or completed a thru hike, but plan to attempt several over the course of my life, including the Appalachian Trail, el Camino del Santiago and the Irish Coast-to-Coast Walk. I love time on the trail and would love to experience the beauty of the world in such a way. When I felt satisfied with my journeys, I would cap it off by orbiting the Earth and marveling at our world from above.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

My passion is truly twofold. Firstly, in a professional sense, my passion is writing. Writing has carried me through so many ups and downs in my life, and as frustrating as the process can be (especially editing submission after submission), it will always be more rewarding than draining for me. I believe stories have a real power, and that literature can change a culture — which can change the world. My passion for writing is rooted in expression: of myself, and of the world we inhabit. I often consider writing as my lens to view my life and the world, so it only makes sense to lean into its grasp on me. As far as pursuit, committing to writing has made me a much stronger person. As with anything, I am not absent of fears. Still, writing is an example of success lying at the end of a winding road of failures. I have gotten rejected from journal after journal, and I’ve learned the priceless lesson that failure is something we get to define for ourselves. All I can do is continue to read as wide an array of works and authors as I can, and to make a disciplined habit of writing. If, after everything, it comes to nothing greater, I expect writing to bring me personal joy and fulfillment throughout my life, and no recognition or lack thereof from the outside world gets to take away that passion I find for literature.

Secondly, I am passionate about changing the way we treat one another. I believe wholly in the power of compassion, and find it desperately missing from so many interactions in the world. I will be the first to admit that I act in self-interested ways every day, but I do what I can to recognize my behavior and change it to align with an example I’d aspire to. I am only capable of controlling myself, and for this reason my pursuit of my commitment to kindness is vested in the way I interact with others and the larger world. I have had many days brighten due to a simple smile or hug from another, and I try to bring this mindset to the forefront of my interactions. As I said, I don’t claim to be any good at this. Still, my hope is that by naming this passion, we can have conservations about how we act toward others and begin to mold a new cultural mindset, together. It is a shame if anyone feels alone in this world, let alone many; we only have each other, y’all.

Broadly, my passion is encouraging others’ passions. Nothing beats the light in someone’s eye talking about something they hold dear. I want to listen to the dreams of others, and be a support in their pursuit of them.

After graduation, I plan to …

… apply to several artists’ fellowships that would allow me to spend a year writing. Otherwise, I will look at options for further study or employment doing something I find rewarding. My long-term plan post-graduation is to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… the Auburn game during the fall of my freshman year (2016). Auburn was a top-15 team, favored over the Dawgs. I will never forget how loud Sanford got on fourth down, right before we stopped them and won the game. It was deafening, and Auburn was defeated under a setting Athens sun. What a great memory. Go Dawgs!