Everyone has a story of how we or our ancestors came to America. Stories we lived or ones we heard from our parents or our grandparents.
For Kaimay Terry '62, that story starts in China where both her parents were born. Separately, her mother and father moved to Hong Kong when it became a British colony. There they met and were married and later raised their daughter amid the brutal Japanese occupation during World War II. Her own journey continues to Oberlin, but it does not end there.
Kaimay's parents knew the value of education. Her mother lost her father at a young age and had to hike several miles every morning after her chores to attend a one-room school house. From this humble beginning, her mother was able to succeed in leaving her village and training to be a nurse. Her daughter inherited that indomitable spirit and took to heart her mother's message: "Never let your environment control your life. You shape the environment to make your own life."
Her father, from a dairy farming family, was educated as a pharmacist and taught himself English while listening to BBC radio broadcasts. He too would not be shaped by his environment, but instead strove to always rise, eventually managing a world famous hospital in Hong Kong.
And so it was, with some nervousness that Kaimay boarded one of the last propeller planes to fly out of Hong Kong, pushed by the coming of the jet age and her desire to escape the confines of Hong Kong for a bigger world. Her suitcase tied shut with string, the knowledge that there would be only letters keeping her connected to her family, Kaimay seized this opportunity. Despite her parents' own ambitious youth, they were nervous to see their daughter leave for so far away: Oberlin, Ohio.
Attending on a single year's scholarship, Kaimay knew that she was taking a risk with her life and her future, but through a friend of her father's, she also knew of Oberlin's long-standing ties to China, the missionaries, their zeal to spread education and their building of clinics. Without that first year's scholarship, her entire life would have turned so many different directions, followed so many different paths.
"I shall never forget how beautiful Tappan Square was when I arrived late, the leaves in bloom in the fall. I had never seen oak trees and red and orange leaves," Kaimay recalls. Arriving in Oberlin late for the start of the semester was challenging, but the beauty of the campus and the friendliness of all the students made her feel welcome. But she knew it would not be easy.
Struggling with language barriers, Kaimay remembers practically living "in the library stacks. I never went to a single ball game. I skipped so many dinners because I felt I had to stay in the stacks and finish the reading assignments."
Still, it was with a heavy heart that she heeded the summons of Dean of Women Mary Dolliver to come to her office. "I went afraid, thinking she would tell me 'You tried your best, we tried our best, but it's not working out,' and I would be sent home." Instead, the Dean surprised her. Sitting in the dark, wood paneled room, Kaimay heard, not the pronouncement that she must pack her bags, but acceptance. "You have to remember," she remembers Dolliver telling her, "we accept people from all over the world. You have to trust us. We selected you because we know you have the potential and abilities to make it here. All the past students we have brought here from around the world, they have all made it, and you will make it too."
It was that sign of faith and the warm embrace of Oberlin that supported Kaimay and helped her find the the strength she had inside to succeed. "I believed in Oberlin and that gave me the reassurance to believe in myself."
After graduating in 1962, Kaimay continued her path of education, keeping her parents' example before her. It was their lives of service to others, especially her mother’s, which stayed with her through her master's degree in social service administration and her subsequent master's in public health. And when she returned to Oberlin for her 35th Reunion, she knew she wanted to honor the legacy of her parents and that especially of Lydia Lord Davis, for it was the scholarship named for this missionary that supported Kaimay while she was in Oberlin. This scholarship, funded by Davis' sons, honored Lydia, and their father Francis and the 17 other Oberlinians among the victims of the massacre in Shanxi during the Boxer Rebellion, a turbulent period of China's history. Kaimay's scholarship also honors those who perished during this turbulent period of China's history.
"For me, the Memorial Arch has a deep and special significance because it honors those who sacrificed their lives for hopes of a better tomorrow. It is part of Oberlin's history that I dearly want to preserve." She says of her scholarship, "I hope my gift will help the disadvantaged but worthy female students of Chinese and Asian heritage to come to Oberlin. It is my fervent wish that it helps strengthen and increase understanding between East and West. And while my contribution may be small, my multiple annuities and my estate will increase the reach of what I want — to help construct a meaningful life as it was done for me, one person at a time."
Photo courtesy of Kaimay Terry