“You know when you have that feeling, that intuition, that something just feels right? After taking a campus tour, I knew I was going to Oglethorpe.”
Kathy Le ’17 felt a connection to OU from the very beginning, and after that campus visit, she began a three-year journey during which she learned about communication and business while also discovering her passion for helping others. Kathy graduates on May 13, 2017 and was chosen to speak at her commencement ceremony on behalf of Oglethorpe’s nontraditional adult students.
As is the case with many students in Oglethorpe’s Adult Degree Program, Kathy’s path to completing her bachelor’s degree was not a straight one. Born and raised in the Atlanta-area, she spent a couple months after high school visiting family in Vietnam. She gained a deeper understanding of the Khmer Rouge genocide in nearby Cambodia in the 1970s from family members who were living in Vietnam at the time.
Upon returning to the U.S., she completed her first year of college, but memories of her trip stuck with her. She felt that the Cambodian people weren’t getting the support they needed to recover, and wanted to do something to help. Her family was nervous about her traveling to Cambodia, but Kathy was persistent: “If nobody wants to go, how are they ever going to get back on their feet? I wanted to help make that one little change that could make a generational difference for the Cambodian people.” She spent two years in Cambodia doing humanitarian work and providing disaster relief, while also teaching English and acting as a translator for Operation Smile. Most the organization’s patients spoke Cambodian, the doctors spoke English, and were training other doctors who spoke Vietnamese (Kathy is fluent in all three).
“I guess my whole life has been set up for serving others, and I’m happy that my time at Oglethorpe has helped me discover that.”
She then returned state-side and moved to Utah, where she spent five years helping a different population as the Program Director for The Journey, a 6-12 month residential treatment program for teen girls with a history of substance abuse or behavioral issues. The program provided equine therapy and wilderness treks, where Kathy and the program residents would go on backpacking trips for a 7-8 days at a time, meeting with therapists along the way, and carrying with them everything they needed for the week. A desire to be closer to her ailing mother brought her back to Atlanta, where she took that campus tour that put her on a path to becoming an Oglethorpe alumna.
Kathy enjoyed taking classes both during the day and in the evening at Oglethorpe. She enjoyed the diversity of adult and traditional college-age students in all of her classes, and seeing light bulbs go off in younger students’ heads when they finally get a good grasp on a subject with which she was already familiar. But it was in Narratives of the Self, a Core course, in which she felt all students in the class, regardless of age, were learning something new together. She appreciated the meaningful, nonjudgmental classroom discussion where students felt comfortable disagreeing with one another or the professor as they explored the subject matter: “The learning goes both ways; you’re not just sitting there listening, you can give back some of things you’ve learned through your experiences.”
Very involved on campus while pursuing her major in Communication and Rhetoric Studies, Kathy served as the chapter president of the National Society of Leadership and Success (and earning the National Engaged Leader award), participated in the Center for Civic Engagement’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and was an active member of at least five other clubs, exploring interests from Arabic to Rotaract.
Kathy’s involvement extended off-campus as well as she completed two internships, both with employers that also keep the needs of others in mind. She did some writing and public relations for the nonprofit Atlanta Opera, and also for Gregory Christie, a local children’s illustrator for whom she penned a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award acceptance speech.
She’s exploring her next step upon graduation, looking for the right position in the communication or PR field, but knows she wants to work for an organization that gives back to the community. “I guess my whole life has been set up for serving others, and I’m happy that my time at Oglethorpe has helped me discover that.”