Keeper of the Dream: Mena Hannakachl


When Oakland University junior Mena Hannakachl moved to the U.S., she recalls being misjudged as people assumed she was a naive, silent girl. Hannakachl receiving the Keeper of the Dream Award (KOD) solidifies that she is anything but. 

Hannakachl was born in Baghdad, Iraq and moved to the United Arab Emirates to flee war at the age of four. She credits this time in her life for shaping who she is today.

“My interests and my work at [OU] actually stems from my immigrant experiences,” Hannakachl said. 

Having lived in the Middle East for 12 years of her life, Hannakachl learned multiple languages, speaking Arabic, Chaldean and English fluently. She is motivated to advocate for linguistic justice as an embedded writing specialist in the OU Writing and Rhetoric department.

“I am involved in my role as an embedded writing specialist in the first year writing classes, which basically means that I am a writing TA in Writing 1020 and Writing 1050,” she said. “My mission is making sure that my students and other students at OU feel like they do belong, regardless of their background and where they come from.”

Tears were shed as Hannakachl opened the letter that revealed she would be a KOD recipient. She had felt the need to diminish herself before finally feeling accepted for who she really is by the OU community. 

“When I found out that I am one of the recipients, my first thought was — my OU community has recognized the same contributions I was told to put aside,” Hannakachl said. “I think that was really the pivotal moment — that I can be told in one space that my voice and my languages and my immigrant story is irrelevant, but at the same space, it can also be valued and validated.” 

Hannakachl has had colleagues call her social justice work controversial and abstract. She now feels they will have to take her more seriously.

Hannakachl is living proof that other students like her will be validated and valued, as well.

“I think the best part about winning KOD, in my opinion, is I now have credibility,” she said. “I don’t need my colleagues that don’t necessarily support my advocacy work. I know that my OU community sees my impact, and I feel very validated by that.”

After graduation, Hannakachl plans on attending law school to become an attorney, and has already begun studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). She believes she’s been put on this planet to aid marginalized voices in the way the Writing and Rhetoric department has aided hers. 

“[The Writing and Rhetoric department] believed in my authentic voice, and they lifted that voice,” Hannakachl said. “I feel like I can only do so much for lifting others’ voices, but I think my mission is for all of us to do the same thing to other people, and kind of expand that as a community.” 

This article is a part of a series of articles about the 2023 Keeper of the Dream Awards recipients.