Class of 2019: Leah Agler carries passion for art through military, school and beyond

Leah Agler standing in front of a brick wall.
Leah Agler said what she will remember most about her time at VCU is the people, the lessons and the way she was pushed to think differently. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Leah Agler wants to make art related to things she is passionate about.

It’s a long list.

She wants to highlight people who are underrepresented. She loves to be immersed in things, places and styles that make her happiest. She’s passionate about fitness, street art and the veteran community. 

And, graphic design. 

Agler graduates next month with a degree in graphic design after seven semesters at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts — all spent on the dean’s list. The Ohio native is from a small town called Bucyrus, where her graduating high school class in 2011 comprised less than 100 people. 

“Throughout school I always loved my art classes the most but I first got interested in design when I was a junior in high school,” she said. “I went to a school called Pioneer Career and Technology Center for my last two years of high school and studied graphic design for half the day and finished my academic classes I needed to graduate for the other half of the day.” 

During her senior year, Agler decided to join the Marine Corps.

“I joined for a lot of reasons,” she said, “including not being able to afford college, not receiving the track scholarships I had hoped for — due to getting injured prior to my senior year — and because I was competitive, athletic, and thought that it was something I could physically do. I wanted to travel, be independent, help people. 

“Plus, my 17-year-old stubbornness decided that if I was going to join the military, I was going to go for the best, the hardest, the most intimidating branch.”

Another benefit of joining the Marines was that Agler didn’t have to put her design work on hold. Rather, she continued to pursue this passion in the Marines as a Combat Camera Production Specialist.

“When I found out about the creative field of Combat Camera I agreed to join as long as that would be my job, and it was,” she said. “The desire to deploy and do my part came soon after making my decision.” 

When Agler left the Marines after five years of active duty, she couldn’t wait to enroll at VCUarts. During her time at VCU, Agler joined fellow student veterans in the Student Veterans Association to organize new opportunities for veterans to connect with each other.

“Serving as the vice president of the SVA gave me a great sense of purpose within the VCU and veteran community,” she said. 

Yet what Agler will remember most about her time at VCU is the people, the lessons and the way she was pushed to think differently. After graduation she will move to Nashville, where she interned last summer with Locomotion Creative, a creative advertising studio.

Looking back, Agler said, there is not a single moment that stands out. It is the experience as a whole that she will cherish. 

“I’m honestly just proud to have made it to graduation, and a semester earlier than expected,” she said. “I’m a first-generation, nontraditional, veteran student and I feel very lucky to be reaching a goal I have worked so hard for. I can’t wait to see what is next.”

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