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Valedictorian Koh driven to make her mother proud

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May 05, 2017
Sehie Olivia Koh and the Hodisons family

Sehie Olivia Koh and her family(This is part 3 in a four-part series on Detroit Mercy Valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh. Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.)

Detroit Mercy valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh was born in Wisconsin and lived there until she was 11, when her family moved back to South Korea. Koh lived there for more than five years, and while she enjoyed parts of it, she knew her future was in the U.S.

“The decision to go to school in the U.S. was up to me, but they knew it was best for me too, because I lived in Korea for five years, and it was very eventful,” Koh said. “The culture was interesting, but I knew that wasn’t where and how I wanted to live, for now at least. And I know my family knew it, too. It wasn’t even really discussed. They were just like, ‘You want to go to school in America? Then figure it out.’ ”

Koh’s family moved to Lawrence, Kan., when she was 16. Koh’s father moved back to South Korea after a year, and Koh’s mother and sister followed him about a year later, leaving her alone for her final few months of high school.

She stayed at one house for a few months, but it didn’t work out. That’s when the Hodison family took her in.

“They didn’t know me very well when I first moved in,” Koh said. “Their son was a freshman and I was a senior, and we knew each other from student council. I needed a place to live because I was homeless. They were like, ‘Oh, you should be living in a house.’ They took me in when they didn’t have to because they already have four kids of their own and a daycare of, like, six to eight kids. There was already 12 to 15 people in the house every day. But that’s just who the Hodison are; a giving, driven, most-loving family. Even with the craziest, busiest of schedules and lives, they still took the time and energy to take me in and be there for me, and by doing so they, exemplified the exact type of person I strive to be.”

Koh enjoyed her time staying with the Hodisons. She believes the daycare and support from the Hodisons, helped inspire her to work with children and become the person she is today.

“I had a lot going on at the time and I would play with the kids, and try to sort out what’s going on in mind,” Koh said. “The kids, they’re so pure and so happy. They just want to give you a hug if you look like you need a hug. In a sense, I feel like I’m giving back to them when I work with kids because they were there for me. The whole environment and support that the Hodisons unconditionally gave was what I dearly held onto during that unforgettable period.”

Koh keeps in close contact with her family, who remains in South Korea, but admits there are times she gets homesick. Part of the reason she’s involved with so many activities at Detroit Mercy is to distract herself from being homesick. But the main reason is that she wants to do all she can to make her mother proud.

“When I do something, I would always think of my mom and the overall goal was to make her and my family proud.” Koh said. “When I go home, the first thing I do after talking to her, is say, ‘Here’s everything from this year.’ She can never be at any of these events, so she would never understand what any of these awards mean or what the fashion show did or what I did as part of whatever organization I was in, but those are the only physical things I can show her that I did something.

“Those awards don’t really mean anything to me compared to what it felt like to have the fashion show or to have people come cry at the orphanage, that is what makes me feel alive. To her, she would never get that unless I try to explain it to her, but she would still never get that because she wasn’t there. It’s just these physical things I can show her and say, ‘Here, you go.’ I never keep any of my awards, they’re all sitting at my house in Korea in my parent’s room. It’s just something I can give her to show her I’m doing alright by myself, and to not worry. I just want to give her more. You always want to give your mom the most. She deserves everything, and I just don’t think I’ve given her everything, yet.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.

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What people are saying about Sehie Olivia Koh

“She has not only reached out to an orphanage, she has enabled other students to do the same thing. ‘Hey we have this organization that does this, maybe it could be something for you guys.’ Then the guys went there and did something. That’s remarkable, especially with someone who doesn’t come from a privileged background. She has done most, if not all, of what she does basically driven by herself, by the understanding that this is something she can and should be doing. There are many students who are much more privileged than her, and they don’t understand much of this at all, which is sad, but a reality.” Detroit Mercy Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Klaus Friedrich.

“She likes to stay involved. I think she wants to have an impact and do something. She’s a doer. She doesn’t talk the talk, she walks the walk. I really think it’s her personality; it’s her gift; it’s something you really can’t explain. Some people just have that ‘it.’ You can’t explain it, you can’t mimic it, it’s original. She’s going to do very well in life if she keeps it up. I think it’s something she’s born with and she has that gift of personality, gift of connection. We all have these special things we can do. Some people can draw, some people can sing effortlessly; she can just be Olivia. At a small school like this, you need people like her to keep the energy up.” Charity fashion show co-founder Asia Rawls.

“She is a very special person. She has very creative ideas, and not only does she have these ideas, but she implements them and has the ability to do so on her own. Her drive, her creativity and her free-spiritedness, I haven’t really seen that before, and that’s what kind of drew me to her in the beginning. I always told her she has a vibe or a spirit about her, any time she meets someone, instantly, she connects well with them. Just instantly, and people can kind of pick up on that from her. She has just a genuine, good spirit and it rubs off on people. They can see it without her even having to speak. It’s just amazing.” Friend and Boys 2 Men volunteer Myron Hampton.

On a scale from 1 to 10, I would have to give her an 11. The volunteers were all different kinds of people — athletes, basketball players, lacrosse players, some are going to dental school, they came from all over and different factions. For her to have it organized like she did was just a marvelous job. The vast amount of people involved was a attributed to her tremendous effort.” Vance Teasley, Christ Child House.

“She’s a giver. Of her time, her energy, her wisdom. To me, the relationship we have together, she’s like a big sister. She challenges me to step out of my comfort zone and go for what I want, and not be scared. She’s a selfless person. She’s a leader inside and outside the classroom.” Friend and charity fashion show model Yarnise Hines.

Titan Talk with Sehie Oliva Koh and Asia Rawls

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