kaFor many parents, watching a child walk across the stage at college graduation is a proud moment. For Ka Vang’s mother, it’s that and so much more, a testament to her lifelong commitment for Vang to have a better life.

Vang will participate in Winona State University’s Fall Commencement Ceremony Dec. 9, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication focused on advertising, and an individualized studies minor focused on marketing and public relations. Vang also received the Outstanding Student award from the WSU Mass Communication Department.

The Vang family journey began in Laos after the Secret War. When the war was over, Vang’s mother fled to a refugee camp in Thailand, where Vang was born, the youngest of four sisters.

The family then moved to the U.S., but with four children to support and no English language skills. Vang’s mother struggled to find a job.

When it came time to apply for college, Vang found herself struggling with the barriers many first-generation students face. She had little to no knowledge of the higher education system—processes, resources, jargon, expectations—and her mother couldn’t offer any help because of the language barrier.

Vang selected WSU because of its Sociology Department but soon discovered she would thrive in a more creative setting.

“WSU, specifically the Mass Communication department, challenged me, shot me down, disappointed me, raised me up, encouraged and inspired me to no end,” Vang said. “WSU is a rollercoaster I never want to get off of.”

Mass Communication professors Tanya Ryan and Cindy Killion were big influences on Vang, in part because they both employed a no nonsense approach to encouraging and educating her.

“Tanya gave me the grades I earned, not the grades I deserved. She didn’t sugarcoat things and really prepared me for my future in advertising. She was a very encouraging leader and always reminded me that females are strong as heck,” Vang said.

She added, “I only had one class with Cindy, but this course with her really put me in my place. She forced me outside of my comfort zone; she forced me to think outside of the box and to learn more about myself than anyone has ever forced me to. Cindy taught me to be brave.”

While attending WSU, Vang worked as the lead photographer and a student public relations writer for WSU’s Communications Office, receiving on the job training and experience working with peers and clients. She also took advantage of WSU’s travel study opportunities, spending a month in Spain with faculty and students from the Mass Communication Department.

Collectively, these experiences taught Vang an important lesson about her individuality, something she hopes other students will come to understand as well.

“Be your most authentic self. It’s breathtakingly terrifying and exciting,” Vang said.

On Dec. 9, when Vang walks across the stage for her degree, she isn’t just doing it for herself. She’s also doing it for the woman who gave her the opportunity to get to this point.

“In the Hmong culture, the son takes care of the mom in her old age, but because I don’t have any brothers, it’s up to my sisters and me to take care of my mom,” Vang said. “Receiving a degree means I will be able to provide a better future not only for myself, but for my mother. Seeing me walk across that stage will fulfill my mom’s dreams.”

WSU Fall Commencement Ceremonies will be at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 in McCown Gymnasium. The 10 a.m. ceremony will feature the Colleges of Business, Education and Science, and the 2 p.m. ceremony will feature the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Nursing and Health Sciences. For more information on commencement, visit http://www.winona.edu/graduation/commencement.asp.

For more information, contact University Communications at 507-457-5024.

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Samantha Stetzer

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