Merrimack College Students Discuss Diverse Life Experiences Through ‘Conversations with Warriors’

The week-long series, also part of the College’s Unity in Diversity Days, was run by the First Year Experience programs and provided an open space for dialogue.
Logo for Conversations with Warriors
Conversations with Warriors is a week-long event designed to connect first year students through real conversations about challenging perceptions and stereotypes.

Andrea Wamboldt, director of Merrimack’s First Year Experience program, strives to give freshmen a chance to fully understand and embrace the Merrimack community as they become part of it.

As such, all first-year students are required to participate in Conversations with Warriors, a week-long series that sees Merrimack community members from all walks of life discuss their personal stories of overcoming adversity. The goal is to challenge perceptions and stereotypes in a space designed for open dialogue without judgment.

Previously, Conversations with Warriors was presented as a panel discussion — this year, students chose which speakers they wanted to connect with in small-group, 15-minute rotating sessions. Also for the first time, Conversations with Warriors was included as part of Unity in Diversity Days.

“We wanted there to be more interaction,” Wamboldt said. “Our panelists are now storytellers, so they’re still sharing their stories and answering questions but it’s in a smaller, intimate setting. It’s more of having a conversation and an informal learning opportunity than taking part in a large lecture program.”

During one session, Kadie LaFlamme, an access service librarian in the McQuade Library, discussed what she described as her “adventures in the NICU,” while delivering her first daughter, Adelaide. Despite a difficult delivery and weeks spent in the hospital, Adelaide is now a healthy, happy six-year-old.

“I decided to participate because I wanted to show that while everyone’s story is different, we are all on this wild adventure called life together,” she said. “Everyone’s stories, everyone’s experiences, matter and are important. We can always learn from each other and grow together, and sharing stories is a great way to do that.”

Elsewhere, Cristina Fernández, the assistant director of career advising at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, discussed her adult autism diagnosis. A self-described “weird kid,” it wasn’t until Fernández was in her 20s when she finally received clarity on some of her perceived eccentricities.

“I had to struggle without any kind of accommodations until I could get my own diagnosis,” she explained. “Then everything clicked for me. My take-home message to students is that they should feel confident to be radically authentic.”

Jackson Fortune-O’Brien ’25 participated in multiple sessions over the week to discuss his life as a transgender man.

“What made me do this event is my drive to educate people,” he said. “I have two younger siblings that look up to me so I strongly believe in learning through life experiences.”

“What I learned is just to be yourself,” added Michael Rebmann ’27, who is currently pursuing an undergraduate marketing degree. “Don’t let anyone talk you down for being who you are and who you want to be. Do your own thing.”

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