Campus: CSU Fullerton -- May 27, 2005
From Operation Babylift to Cal State Fullerton Graduate
She has no remembrance of that historic day when she and hundreds of other
Vietnamese children and infants were hurriedly loaded onto a plane and airlifted out
of Saigon. In fact, as part of Operation Babylift, about 3,000 Vietnamese infants
and children were flown out of the war-torn country.
As one of the last babies handed up to the plane, Kimberly Thompson of Yorba Linda,
estimates that she may have been about 18 months old. Blind and malnourished, she
was quickly adopted upon reaching the United States.
"I was raised in Whittier as part of a big Italian family," she said. "I was brought
up as an American girl." Despite two corneal transplants performed in the United
States, Thompson is still considered legally blind. She has no vision in her left
eye and 20/300 vision in her right.
Yet despite this obstacle, Thompson will join thousands of others who will participate
in commencement activities this weekend at Cal State Fullerton. She is a candidate
for a master's degree in counseling and previously earned a bachelor's degree in
psychology at CSUF in 2002.
Thompson had heard "great things" about Cal State Fullerton and because of its
proximity to her home, she decided that she would transfer to the university after
attending classes at Cypress College.
"I found a place in Fullerton that was close enough so I could walk to campus," she
said. "I wanted to live independently, so I worked full time and scheduled my
classes around my work schedule."
Sometimes the difficulty of getting to school, particularly to her night classes,
proved to be too much. And, at one point, Thompson was academically disqualified.
"I remember how frightening that was," she recalled. "I was working with an academic
adviser who told me, 'If you don't get straight 'A's in your next five classes, I
can't readmit you.' It seems harsh but that direct approach was what I needed."
She worked with her teachers and staff from Disabled Students Services and slowly
worked her way up, eventually earning a 3.8 GPA out of a possible 4.0.
"The professors and staff were incredible," she said. "I don't know how I could have
done it without their support. At that time, I didn't have a lot of academic
motivation. Sometimes, I would try to get sympathy by complaining about being blind,
but the folks in Disabled Student Services wouldn't let me get away with it. They
were empathetic, but made it clear that it was up to me to succeed."
Disabled Student Services staff did, however, create audiotapes of her required books
and helped develop e-texts where the books could be downloaded to her computer with
the font size greatly enlarged so that she could read it.
Thompson also received a great deal of support from her husband, Nick.
"He strongly believes in education, and he helped keep my momentum going," she said.
She also credits David Shepard, assistant professor of counseling, who "took a
chance on me" when she applied to the graduate program in counseling.
"I have received incredible support, and that has enabled me to do things I never
thought possible," she said. "For instance, this spring, I presented my master's
project at the American Counseling Association Conference. I am a prelicensed board
member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and served as
president of Kappa Omega [the counseling honor society]." She recently began working
at a private Buena Park-based high school that serves developmentally and emotionally
Thompson's interests in counseling hit close to home. She's interested in working
with those with disabilities and those involved in interracial adoptions.
Although she has not been back to Vietnam, she hopes to return one day to the land
where she was born.
"In some ways, it's difficult because I have no history - I don't know how old I am
or what my true birth date is," she said. "I don't know anything about my biological
family. But that's okay. Now I'm moving ahead - I'm creating my own identity."
Thompson's commencement festivities are Saturday, May 28. Following the 8 a.m. main
ceremony on the sports fields north of Titan Gym, the exercise for students
graduating with degrees in counseling begins at 11 a.m. in the Titan Student
Union's Portola Pavilion.
Media Contact: Valerie Orleans, Public Affairs at (714) 278-4540