If there was a silver lining to Anna Wolak’s grandfather passing away, it was that the experience unearthed her passion. When he was in hospice and after he died, the funeral staff was so caring, so thoughtful, and so attentive that Anna took notice. Specifically, she was struck when the funeral director gently and kindly tucked in her tired, drained and almost sleeping mother. It was that act that drove Anna to Malcolm X College’s Mortuary Science program.

After growing up and attending high school in Pittsburgh, Anna stayed in Pennsylvania for art school. She knew she was interested in art, but art school wasn’t keeping her motivated. With that in mind, Anna headed to Chicago and worked at various jobs in the local music and organic grocery scenes. When she learned of Malcolm X’s program—the only mortuary science program in Chicago—she knew she had found her calling.

“My experience at Malcolm X has been great. The Mortuary Science program is unique in that I have all my classes with the same 17 people and much of the same faculty. It is such a supportive atmosphere and we’ve really become like family, helping each other along the way,” Anna said.

She will complete her Associate Degree in Mortuary Science in May, at which time her focus will be on getting licensed and earning an apprenticeship at a funeral home. It is there that she hopes to start her career, helping people move forward in their grief.

“Mortuary science and death care is more about the living than the dead in a lot of ways,” she says.

Anna will be the first in her family to earn a degree, and will do so as the Malcolm X College valedictorian – the first valedictorian to study mortuary science. Someday, she’d also like to teach, to help motivate others. As someone who never enjoyed school, the faculty at Malcolm X College showed her a passion for teaching and learning, and she’d like to inspire others in the same way.

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