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STHM Alumna Jamila Lee recognized for personal perseverance

By: Jamie Cann
First Published: July 7, 2014
Topics: In the News, STHM School

Attaining a college degree was satisfying.

Earning recognition for her perseverance was equally fulfilling.

Sharing a stage with the First Lady was, well, unexpected.

Jamila Lee, a recent graduate of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, was honored last month at the 2014 District of Columbia College Access Program (D.C. CAP) Annual Graduation Celebration. Founded 15 years ago, D.C. CAP assists in the college-enrollment process for public- and charter-school students in the nation’s capital. The organization has placed college advisors in each of the district’s traditional secondary schools and has doled out more than $31 million in scholarships to qualifying students, according to D.C. CAP public relations director Julie Rosenthal.

One such student was Lee, a native of Washington, D.C., who in 2009 graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Fine Arts. D.C. CAP distinguished Lee with its Most Perseverance Award, given to a product of the organization that demonstrates resolve in overcoming obstacles to reach his or her goals. She estimates that sundry opportunities afforded by D.C. CAP provided in excess of $60,000 toward her education at Temple University.
The award came with one caveat: its recipient – in this case, Lee – had only a few-days’ notice to prepare a speech to be delivered to guests of D.C. CAP’s reception. First Lady Michelle Obama, a staunch advocate of changing the way students from low-income families view higher education, served as speaker at the nearly 700-guest event.

“First Lady Obama’s theme was to never stop struggling,” Lee said, “because, as she put it, it’s been scientifically proven that if you struggle to get through something, it’s a sign of growth and it’s important for success.”
Fortunately for Lee, the First Lady’s message offered a natural segue into her talk on perseverance – a topic on which Lee is quite familiar.

Originally planning to study dance when she arrived at Temple University, Lee changed her major twice before deciding on STHM and an eventual career path in hospitality management. Visits to academic advisers weren’t Lee’s only impediments toward graduating, however. Lee became pregnant in her junior year and, with now-fiancé Julius Hutchins, delivered their son, Jacob. To her credit, Lee’s pregnancy forced her to miss only one semester of studies, en route to graduating in May 2014.

Overcoming challenges significantly influenced the direction Lee followed in delivering her speech at the D.C. CAP reception.

“I just spoke about my personal story – about having a child in college, changing majors, taking a semester off,” Lee said. “Although I was selected to be the awardee, I wanted to represent all of those who have overcome adversity. I wanted to say, ‘Yes, I’m standing on this stage right now, but I know, like you, how to overcome challenges. I am just like you all.’’

Lee credits D.C. CAP and Temple University with putting her in a position to succeed. She landed her first full-time job, post-graduation, at a Starwood Hotel property with which she interned – the Westin Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., where she serves as a marketing coordinator.

“At Starwood, they promote within the company,” she said, “so I’ll go wherever my career will take me.” And by all estimations, Lee is on her way up.