NOVEMBER 30, 2023 — Melissa Long will cross the stage in December to receive her bachelor’s in fine arts from the UTSA School of Art. Her graduation will be a special milestone; it comes on the heels of her two-year-old son’s diagnosis with leukemia last April.
“Having the energy to even go to school has been hard,” said Long. “I pushed through the only way I know how — through my art.”
Long is a painter who primarily uses acrylics and often incorporates collage to add depth to her artwork. Through her art, she is on a mission to educate people about childhood cancer and to advocate for philanthropic funding, which has helped with her toddler son’s treatment.
During her time as a UTSA student, she has received support from faculty, staff and fellow students. She’s also engaged with Gabriella’s Smile Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Ma Hila’s Heart, organizations that have provided additional support to Long and her family.
“People don’t want to talk about childhood cancer, but it needs to be talked about,” said Long. These children are going to ‘hold the fort’ for us when they get older. We need to advocate for them.”
She has two paintings in the Main Campus Art Gallery (ARTS 2.03.04) for the senior show: “Pace” and “Layman’s Terms.”
“’Pace’ is about the lullaby I sang to my son when he was going back to surgery for the first time. He was so scared, hungry and sick, but the song I wrote for him calmed him down,” Long said. “’Layman’s Terms’ is how I explained to our five-year-old, Zooey, about her brother having cancer.”
UTSA School of Art director Libby Rowe has found Long to be an inspiration.
“She has been a force and has shown amazing resiliency during this challenging time. She and her son, Ollie, deserve to be celebrated,” Rowe said.
Ollie has responded well to his treatment, Long said.
“Cancer hasn’t stopped him from playing with his big sister, hasn’t stopped him from climbing things, which is definitely one of his favorite things to do,” she added. “And it hasn’t stopped him from loving with every piece of his big heart.”
UTSA Today spoke with Long to learn more about her time at UTSA and what lies ahead.
The following story has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about the people who were influential in your educational journey. Who were they and how did they impact you?
ML: I don't just have one person who has had an extreme influence on my educational journey here at UTSA. I have five. I can't just choose one, because of how much each has impacted me in different ways.
Jason Willome in the UTSA Department of Art and Art History has been my professor a few times since 2015. He teaches in a way my brain understands. He has an immense amount of patience and always knows just what to say. He’s been so kind, and I have the utmost respect for him. He offers advice to me that I need to hear, even if I don't want to hear it. Most of all, he understood my personal struggles this semester with Ollie, and he offered to provide support in any way necessary.
Hiromi Stringer, an art instructor, taught me how to fall in love with drawing. I have always had a rough relationship with drawing and knew I would struggle as an artist if I couldn’t draw all that well. I hated it. I hated the texture of the pencils or graphite on the page. I hated how much focus it took. Hiromi made me realize how fun it really is… how to see. She made a big impact on me. Even more than that, she supported me when I needed it most.
Verena Gaudy in ceramics was always so sweet and humble. She could easily teach me how to do something and she was always so encouraging. Even now that she is not my professor, she still offers advice when I need it. She gave me such a big hug last semester after finding out about my young son having cancer.
Likewise, Victor Guerrero, an administrator, has been an incredible friend to me. If I needed a hug or just to stop by to see a friendly face in the office after I'd had a hard day, he was and is always there. He knows what my son is going through, and it means so much to me to have him in my circle.
Then, there’s Libby Rowe. What can I say about Libby? After finding out about my challenging situation, Libby encouraged me to do what I thought was best, and if graduating was what I wanted to do she said she would support that for me 100%.
And she did. She was always there for me with questions, always there for me for emotional support.
If it wasn't for the entire UTSA arts department having my back during a time that was so challenging to navigate, I truly would have pushed my graduation back another 2.5 years.
Melissa Long poses in her commencement gear with her daughter, Zooey, who is in a UTSA cheerleading uniform. Photo courtesy of Marie James
What advice do you have for fellow Roadrunners?
ML: You need to communicate. Communicate your needs emotionally, mentally and physically. Tell the people you love how they can support you. I’ve found that if you tell your professors you're having trouble with something, they will help. It’s all about communication.
What’s your next big adventure?
ML: I want to get my body of artwork seen on some walls. I am preparing to secure a solo exhibition. But first, I'm going to graduate and I'm going to spend a little time enjoying life before the first of the year.
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