It did not take long for Fredrick Cherry Jr. to feel at home at the University of Iowa. Once here, he flourished under the tutelage of mentors, and has helped groom the next generation of people to do the same things that he has had the opportunity to do.
Emily Nelson
Tim Schoon
Fredrick Cherry Jr.

Degree: English and Creative Writing

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois 

Plans after graduation: Pursue a PhD in English at the University of Maryland, focusing on African American literature in the 20th and 21st centuries

Fredrick Cherry Jr. says he believes people are meant to be where they are.

“At the end of the day, I was supposed to be a Hawkeye,” Cherry says. “I didn’t realize that four years ago, but I appreciate it now. I don’t feel like I would have gotten any of this someplace else.”

Cherry graduated from the University of Iowa in May 2019 with a degree in English and creative writing, an already impressive CV, and a spot at the University of Maryland, where he will pursue his PhD in English.

As he prepared to graduate from high school in Chicago, Cherry didn’t initially consider the UI. But after someone mentioned that Iowa had a strong creative writing program, he applied and was accepted.

“I felt at home during my on-campus visit,” Cherry says. “I remember I told my parents this is definitely someplace I could see myself for the next four years.”

Cherry has certainly left his mark on the UI since that visit, participating in a long list of organizations and activities on campus and in the community. Some of these have helped shaped the future of the university, including participating on search committees for associate vice president/dean of students and multicultural program coordinator; UI Strategic Plan Committee; Division of Student Life Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan Committee; Campus Inclusion Team Review Committee; and the Black Student Union.

“One thing I’ve learned is to make sure I have a seat at the table, especially the tables I want to be seated at,” Cherry says. 

Cherry says Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. also has played a big role in his time at the UI, giving him opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Along with serving as president, secretary, treasurer, and intake coordinator for the Alpha Theta Chapter, he also served as the assistant district director for the Do Work District of Iowa. Cherry also served a year as president of the UI National Pan-Hellenic Council.

Fredrick Cherry Jr. speaks at the Catlett Residence Hall dedication ceremony. As an undergraduate, Cherry was a resident assistant in Catlett Hall.

As the UI prepared to open its newest residence hall in fall 2017, Cherry was chosen to speak at the dedication ceremony. Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall is named for the renowned sculptor and printmaker who was one of three UI students to earn the first Master of Fine Arts degrees in the United States in 1940. She also was the first African American woman to receive the degree.

“I wanted to hammer in that we have some amazing people here at the University of Iowa, and to specifically highlight black and brown people here who often go unnoticed,” Cherry says. “We need to make the time to recognize these people for the hard work that they have done and continue to do.”

Cherry says he has long loved telling stories and arrived on campus planning to focus on writing. However, the course about African American literature before 1900, taught by Lena Hill, former UI associate professor of English and African American studies, led him to change course. 

“Dr. Hill made me see a different side to English, which was looking at and studying literature,” Cherry says. “I found that especially interesting as it pertained to African American literature, because throughout my high school career, I didn’t really have the opportunity to dive into that.”

He followed the course with an independent study with Hill, in which he analyzed the work of Ralph Ellison. It was during that time that Hill told Cherry about the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has already presented the work he produced during the summer 2018 program at one conference, and he will present it at another this summer.

The apprenticeship also solidified his plan to pursue a PhD in English. He plans to focus on African American literature in the 20th and 21st centuries, especially issues related to black freedom, liberation, masculinity, and performance.

“Experience different things and figure out what you want to do. Whatever you want to try, try it. This is your opportunity to actually experience and learn all that you can, so take advantage of it.”

Fredrick Cherry Jr.

Cherry says he’s been lucky to have had mentors such as Hill and Melissa Shivers, interim associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and vice president for student life, throughout his life. 

“I didn’t always realize it, but people took time to invest in me and my growth and my learning,” Cherry says. “I want to make sure that I’m that same person for other people, specifically black people because we don’t always have that. I hold various positions and always in the back of my mind is who’s going to have this position once I’m gone. I want to make sure I help groom the next generation of people to do the same things that I had the opportunity to do.”

Cherry pays forward the mentoring he has received through many activities, including his position as a black student success coordinator helping with On Iowa! events and assisting in developing the Hawkeye Leadership Institute; as a resident assistant at Catlett Hall; and as a familiar face that takes the time to check in on others and help stimulate their development. 

“Fred is one of the most talented students I’ve had the opportunity to work with over my 22-year career,” Shivers says. “Fred’s involvement on campus is wholly centered on his love of literature, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, his community, and those he cares deeply about. His positive, supportive attitude and passion for his work and interest is the epitome of a Hawkeye. We have been fortunate to have Fred as our student and I am proud he will be an alumnus of the University of Iowa.”

As he looks forward to the next phase in his life, Cherry says he can see how much he has grown while at the UI.

“Freshman year Fred and senior year Fred are two very different people,” Cherry says. “I’m much more comfortable in who I am now.”

He also has some advice for current and future Hawkeyes.

“You don’t have to have everything figured out now. There’s time,” Cherry says. “Experience different things and figure out what you want to do. Whatever you want to try, try it. This is your opportunity to actually experience and learn all that you can, so take advantage of it.”

Cherry also has one more suggestion: Enjoy the amphitheater behind the Iowa Memorial Union.

“I’ve grown to love that spot on campus,” Cherry says. “I go sit and watch the ducks and geese. It has been one of my biggest de-stressors since I’ve been here. I like being in nature; I didn’t realize that previously!”

Get all the details about the University of Iowa’s spring 2019 commencement ceremonies.