Mesa man celebrates ASU graduation The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa man celebrates ASU graduation

Mesa man celebrates ASU graduation

By Kristen LaRue-Sandler, Tribune Guest Writer

Tomorrow, Anthony Celaya will continue a family tradition by donning an Arizona State University cap and gown – though he’ll be doing it from the comfort of his Mesa home

Since ASU ceremonies are virtual, Celaya will likely wear something ZOOM-worthy — but the second-generation Sun Devil will earn his third ASU degree: this time, a doctorate.

Celaya, who formerly taught high school in his own hometown of Mesa, is completing a PhD in English education. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in English education.

He loves his profession as much as his alma mater.

Celaya cares deeply about his students — past, present and future — and sees great potential in them as agents of positive change.

“I believe in the power of young people to tackle the problems they see in their schools and communities,” he said.

If Celaya needed confirmation that he made the right career choice, he got it: In 2017, he was awarded the Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Part of the award included mentorship and leadership training at a meeting that led to the creation of a new Arizona-based position and that fall, Celaya became the first diversity director for the Arizona English Teachers Association, where he worked on projects to increase support for rural teachers.

Back at ASU, Celaya worked alongside English education faculty to organize and plan ASU’s El Día de los Niños, El Día de los Libros event for three years.

The annual literacy celebration welcomes 500 high school and middle school students to the Tempe campus to interact with young adult authors from all over the country.

The 2020 event was unfortunately sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Celaya’s work lives on in the hundreds of young lives he helped impact.

We sat down with Celaya to find out a little more about his family legacy and about his plans beyond ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: I always knew that I wanted to work with future teachers. When I was a high school teacher, I wanted to mentor preservice teachers who were assigned to complete their internships or student teaching in my classroom.

However, as I was working on my master’s at ASU, I realized that I could have an even greater impact on future teachers by conducting educational research and teaching English methods courses for preservice teachers. So, I decided to return to ASU for my PhD to work more extensively with undergraduate teachers.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I took a course on literacies with Associate Professor of English Peter Goggin, and he would always say, “It’s not what’s in your head, but what your head is inside of.” And that’s something that has always stuck with me.

Whatever my ideas are about teaching, learning or research, those ideas are informed by what I’m consuming. If someone has differing ideas from mine, it’s not because one of us is necessarily wrong, our heads are just in different places.

Over the years, I’ve tried to stick my head in new places with my students, colleagues and professors to engage in more critical discussions about why we do what we do.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’m a lifelong Sun Devil. My father graduated from ASU in 1977, and some of my fondest childhood memories include walking through campus along old train tracks to ASU football games.

I always knew I was going to be a Sun Devil for my undergraduate degree. But what brought me back for my PhD was the support I had from the entire English education faculty to continue on in my graduate studies. Without their encouragement, I don’t know if I would have taken this step in my career.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I tell my undergraduate teachers all the time to embrace the discomfort that new or challenging ideas bring. My favorite learning experiences at ASU were times when I tried something difficult or unfamiliar. When I was an undergraduate, I designed a teaching unit using Ernest Hemingway’s play “The Fifth Column” and George Orwell’s memoir “Homage to Catalonia” to study the Spanish Civil War.

I never taught that unit, but the experience of taking two lesser-known texts to design something new helped me to become a teacher who was willing to try new things. School should be a time to take risks, to try something new, and the discomfort and tension we feel will make us better at the end of it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In the fall, I’ll be joining the English department at Southeast Missouri State University as an assistant professor of English education.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: With $40 million, I would set up a program that provided grant funding exclusively for students who seek to use their literacies for civic action.

Kristen LaRue-Sandleris an ASU senior marking & communications expert. 

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