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 challenged students.

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 or vorleans@fullerton.edu


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