Deon Canon is the oldest of six children and the first in his family to attend college. He has a double major in professional communication and emerging media and applied social science, with a concentration in history and politics and a minor in applied peace studies.
Along with his two degrees, Canon stands out as an inspiring graduate for his leadership, student activism, involvement, and his strengths as a student and a researcher, said APSS Program Director Tina Lee.
Canon, of Milwaukee, is graduating on Saturday, Dec. 19 from University of Wisconsin-Stout, one of 637 UW-Stout fall graduates.
“I want to be an inspiration to my siblings and nephew so they know that they can go to college. I will always be there to help them on their journey,” he said. “Most importantly, I want to reward my mom to see her firstborn graduate from college.”
Canon has achieved a lot despite many challenges. He is proud of graduating as a first-generation student. But he dealt with self-doubt and struggled being a minority in a predominately white institution, he said.
“As many times as people saw me in public smiling and working hard, I had just as many mental breakdowns that I dealt with sometimes in silence. There were times where I felt I didn't belong in college or was even good enough to attend this institution,” Canon said.
At times Canon felt he would have dropped out of college if not for his support system of peers and faculty, Student Support Services, Multicultural Student Services and Stoutward Bound.
“Each of them made a positive impact that pushed me to continue to achieve more and persevere through my difficulties in college,” he said. “These challenges made me who I am today.”
Zipporah Turnbull, Black Student Union events coordinator and applied social sciences graduate, has known Canon for 10 years. She has seen him grow and accomplish so much inside and outside of the classroom.
“Deon has tremendous grit. He always took the lead to enrich the Stout community,” Turnbull said. “Not only is he a really good leader; he is also a good friend. Reflecting on him reminds me of how consistent and determined he has been throughout the years.”
Senior Lecturer Jim Handley also grew up in Milwaukee. He noted that Canon’s high school is “notorious for its gangs, violence and obstacles to academic achievement. Deon is one of the most extraordinary students I have had during my 18-year career,” he said.
Handley believes he has learned more from Canon than he could have ever taught him. “He has an unbelievable combination of humility and confidence. People are drawn to his sense of humor, his thoughtful insights and his high character,” Handley said. “He’s earned everything he has and cares deeply about creating opportunities for others.”
Determination and perseverance
Canon was Stout Student Association president for the 2019-20 academic year, for which he received the Outstanding Student Leader of the Year Award. He also received the Alex Kirby Memorial Award for Leadership in Social Justice and the Samuel E. Wood Medallion, the university’s highest nonacademic award for students.
He was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the largest undergraduate scholarship program in the nation that supports study abroad. While completing courses on campus, he studied World Cultural History virtually at University of London’s Richmond College.
Canon has worked in a variety of student jobs and internships, including virtually for Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore’s office, while completing his final semester and maintaining a high grade point average.
When Handley was asked to facilitate a daylong nonviolence workshop in Milwaukee, Canon offered to help. He has traveled to Selma, Ala. with applied peace studies to visit pivotal sites in the civil rights movement and participated in a Washington Seminar summer internship.
And he traveled with Handley, another professor and 22 students in 2016 to Standing Rock, N.D. to show solidarity with the water protectors in the peaceful protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Deon jumped at the chance. He spent his time humbly serving at the encampment any way he could,” Handley said.
Opening doors and creating positive change
PCEM Program Director Mitch Ogden is impressed with Canon’s curiosity, ambition and his courage to embrace opportunities and tackle the unknown. “Deon is energized by opportunities to expand and develop himself. He’s never been afraid of failure,” Ogden said. “Deon is a sterling example of someone who uses the applied learning of Stout to deeply engage in the world around us.”
Lee added, she knows Canon will go on to create positive social change, peace and equity. “His thoughtfulness, ability to listen and care for others makes him an amazing observer of human behavior,” she said. “I’m proud to have had a small part in his journey, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. No matter what field he goes into, I know he will make a positive impact.”
After graduation, Canon plans to return to Milwaukee and find a job in marketing or administration, work in a nonprofit or as a political staffer working to improve communities. The COVID-19 pandemic “put a wrench” in his plans, but he knows doors will open for him in the future, he said.
“My Stout experience meant personal growth. Just understanding who I am and the role I would like to play in our society,” Canon said. “I feel that Stout has prepared me for the jobs I am applying for and the ability to adapt to any changes in technology, industry or society.”