Convocation, Profile

More than just a BA: Student finds empowerment through education

October 07, 2019

Holly Wilbee's fascination with linguistics started with an Audrey Hepburn movie. Wilbee was just ten years old when she watched "My Fair Lady", and she was intrigued by one of the characters who a phonetician that documented British accents using a phonetic alphabet. 

"I thought it was the coolest thing," says Wilbee. "I wanted to be able to do that."

And she did. This fall, Wilbee is graduating from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with a BA in Linguistics and a Certificate in the Linguistics of Speech Science

When Wilbee first joined SFU, she had been out of school for four years and lacked confidence in her academic abilities. But the turning point came for her when she took LING 321: Introduction to Phonology with professor John Alderete.

"He encouraged me to be curious and ask questions," says Wilbee. "The work was challenging and rewarding, and I emerged on the other side a much more confident person."

With the encouragement of Alderete, Wilbee went on to volunteer at the Language Production Lab where she worked on a speech errors database and a research project on Tashlhiyt Berber, a language spoken in Morocco. The volunteer position eventually culminated in a summer of full-time research through an Undergraduate Student Research Award

Outside of the lab, Wilbee continued to pursue her passion for research. With the supervision of professor Murray Munro, one of her most recent projects examined one of television's longest running sitcoms under a linguistic lens.

"I studied vocal disguise through the voice actors of The Simpsons," says Wilbee "For what are voice actors but masters of vocal disguise?" 

The project was the perfect conclusion to her undergraduate journey especially since it gave her the opportunity to work with someone that she looked up to. "It was truly an honour to work with professor Munro," says Wilbee "His enthusiasm, encouragement, and assistance meant the world to me."

Looking back on her time at SFU, Wilbee sees it as more than just a path towards an undergraduate degree; it is also a place of personal growth. 

"SFU was an empowering experience for me," says Wilbee. "Going in, I was convinced I would fail but the courses I took and the professors I had the privilege to learn from taught me that I deserved a place here. I worked hard, I did well, and I emerged a stronger, more confident person."


  • LING 321: Introduction to Phonology
  • LING 491: Directed Research 
    In my final semester I was able to take this course with professor Murray Munro, and I consider it a crescendo to my long-winded undergraduate career.


I think the biggest key to my success was being actively involved in classes. This means engaging with professors, being curious, asking questions, really digging into the material and caring about what you’re learning.

This helps in two major ways:

  • You learn more, not only are you thinking about the material more deeply, but you can test whether you are on the right track.
  • It can open doors and provide opportunities for amazing experiences, e.g. working in a lab or doing a directed research course. It’s a way of proving yourself and showing that you care.

Fall 2019 Outstanding Academic Achievement Award Recipients

This fall convocation, the Department of Linguistics is recognizing a small group of graduating students for their outstanding academic achievements.