When you talk with Goldhmong Vang, SJA Class of 2011, you can feel her energy and excitement for life and its challenges. Her time at St. Joan Antida High School was not always easy, but she was consistently engaged and growing. "I learned to follow my heart, to make changes and try new things," she said. Vang carried this lesson with her through her college career and into her future.
Vang is a Milwaukee native whose parents are refugees from Laos. She grew up in Milwaukee with her four older siblings. She also has an aunt in Milwaukee, who attended SJA – this was Vang's first introduction to the school.
"I wanted to do something different from what others were doing. When I heard about SJA from my aunt, I looked into it, and the all-girls environment sounded empowering," Vang said.
Once at SJA, Vang immediately took to the school.
"Everybody knew everybody. It really felt like a community," she recalled.
Her list of favorite memories seems endless, ranging from her teachers to her friends to her extracurriculars, and even to her difficult classes. She recalls her SMART-team (Student Modeling a Research Topic) biomolecular project in Cindy McLinn's engineering class. "I don't know how I got through that one," Vang laughed.
The supportive environment at SJA did more than just help Vang create happy memories; it also helped her through difficult times. When Vang had problems at home, including a house fire that left her and her family in a state of upheaval, SJA was a place where she could be uplifted and work through her troubles.
"There was always someone I could talk to. Coming to school each day made me feel like everything was going to be okay," said Vang, looking back on those difficult times.
Vang's strong relationships with her teachers had a large impact in the growth of both her skills and her confidence. One of many influential staff was Ms. Krauss, Vang's homeroom teacher and advisor in many school clubs.
"Ms. Krauss pushed me to do more – she had a positive impact on me," Vang noted. "It wasn't until SJA that I met strong women like Ms. Krauss, and that people told me that I could be strong, too," said Vang.
Vang also brought her own energy and passion into SJA, participating in many clubs and organizations, including the National Honors Society/GOMAD, College Possible, and Volleyball. Based on her leadership skills and diplomatic personality, Vang was awarded the 2011 Robert F. Purcell S. J. Gesu Parish Peacemaker Award.
After SJA, Vang went on to attend Tufts University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies. Graduating from Tufts is Vang's proudest accomplishment, and one she feels that SJA prepared her for.
"SJA pushed me to try new things and challenge myself. That's where learning is. I did things I would have never done. I felt I could do things without knowing the end result," said Vang.
Attending Tufts and pursuing her degree was rewarding, but it wasn't always easy.
"Everybody in my family was rooting me on," she said. "But then I felt more pressure to do well." When she felt herself struggling to feel like she belonged at Tufts, she reached out to SJA guidance counselor Gail Woods for support.
"Mrs. Woods reassured me that I do have the strength to get through college," Vang recalled.
After Tufts, Vang served a year in AmeriCorps at College Possible, the same organization that she was a member of at SJA.
"I realized that I wanted to help other first-generation college students, because I've experienced that firsthand and I know how tough it is," said Vang on her work with College Possible. Vang's values in life are service and love, and she constantly seeks to bring those to life in each new role she takes on.
Vang is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. She has previously served as a Utility Advocate at Community Advocates, working with members of the community to help them receive energy assistance. She is currently working at the Experiential Learning and Career Education center at Cardinal Stritch University as part of her community counseling focus in her Master's degree.
Vang's future career path is not yet decided, but she knows she wants to serve the Milwaukee community in some way.
"At SJA, I became committed to giving back to my community. I hold love in everything I do," said Vang.
With help from SJA, Vang has met the challenges of her high-school and college careers head-on and with a passion and energy that inspire those around her. Her energy is infectious, and she will no doubt continue to challenge herself and improve the lives of those around her.