Dean’s Medalist Finds Herself Through Philosophy

The road to receiving a degree is different for everyone, and for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Dean’s Medalist, Morgan Leland, it’s been a winding one.

Leland is congenitally blind and grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she attended public school until seventh grade before transfering to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, where she completed high school.

Morgan Leland standing on top of mountain with city behind her.
Morgan Leland is graduating with her bachelor's degree in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law. Photo courtesy of Morgan Leland
“I struggled in public school because, like many blind students, teachers thought I wasn’t blind enough to need braille,” said Leland. “Illiteracy is a big problem in the blind community because people who aren’t taught braille end up relying on audio, which isn’t technically reading. I thrived at FSDB, though.”

While she felt the school didn’t prepare her for life in a sighted world, she is grateful the school allowed her to take risks and find her personal limits.

Leland struggled to live on her own, attend community college and work for a couple of months once she graduated high school, but circumstances changed her course.

“After I was attacked on the way home from a grocery store trip and became pregnant as a result, I took the family path and began working full time to support my son,” said Leland. “Soon after, I met my first husband and we spent several years working and raising our family.”

Leland still wanted to get a degree and after working in a position she loved at Intel for a few years she decided to work for the University of Phoenix in order to receive free tuition. She came to the realization that she didn’t just want a degree, though, she wanted an education.

“In 2013, a bad situation with a manager who did not like making accommodations for my blindness on team builders turned into an incredible opportunity when I realized I was finally free to pursue an in-person education,” said Leland. 

When she started her degree at Arizona State University, Leland only knew she wanted to end up at law school, but in the meantime she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue. It wasn’t until after taking a few courses in philosophy that she chose to pursue the discipline as her major.

“My love of philosophy is more than just a personal connection to the people in the department, though,” said Leland. “Philosophy is inextricably linked to science and progress, at least in my view.”

She was able to study abroad in Greece and Italy during the summer of 2017, and while she was there she not only made unforgettable memories, but also learned a lot about herself.

“In principle it was to explore the origins of philosophy, to occupy the same physical place in the world where philosophers like Socrates lived,” Leland said. “And that still compelled me, but this adventure [had] become so much more than my original desire to experience the places I read so much about. As I planned for this trip, I had no way to know what I didn't know. My biggest fear was getting left behind, but that turned out to be the least of my worries. Now, I know the right questions to ask, a better way to communicate with my peers and professors, and I have more confidence in myself and my unique abilities.”

Leland has not only g