She made the right decision: 2021 honors graduate Kaley Zepeda learned valuable academic and personal lessons at ASU
Kaley Zepeda wasn’t planning to attend Arizona State University, but generous scholarship offers solidified her decision to become a Sun Devil.
It turned out to be the right choice. Zepeda graduated May 3 with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with minors in Spanish and public relations and strategic communication from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU West campus.
“Originally, ASU was not on my list of top choices. In fact, I wasn’t going to apply, but for some reason, I decided to submit an application. The deciding factor to where I would go to college was determined by my financial status and what scholarships I’d receive,” she said.
“After being accepted to ASU, I received an email days later notifying that I had been awarded a fully-funded scholarship that would pay for my entire education. I immediately called my mom and gave her the news, and from that point forwarded it was decided that I was a future Sun Devil and that is the best decision I have ever made. ASU exceeded my expectations and because of this I stand in awe at how the most unexpected decisions are the true routes to secured success.”
Zepeda received the Obama Scholarship, the New American University Scholarship-Dean’s Award, Barrett Community Scholarship, and ASU Earn to Learn, as well as federally-funded and university grants.
“I was incredibly fortunate to have my education fully funded and am so grateful to say I am graduating debt-free,” said Zepeda, whose hometown is Yuma, Ariz.
Zepeda took out time from graduation preparations recently to reflect on her time at ASU. Here’s what she had to say:
What is an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?
I’ve always loved public speaking and one of my proudest moments during my ASU career was being a host for TEDxASUWest. I initially auditioned to give a Ted Talk and unfortunately was not one of the finalists, but soon after I was invited to audition for a host position where I would introduce the speakers and be one of the first and last faces the audience saw.
Tell us about your honors thesis/creative project? What was it about?
My honors thesis was both a written and creative project. I first started working on my thesis, What Does It Mean To Settle? An Examination of Romantic Relationships, as an incoming junior in 2019. My thesis focused on examining how we choose our partners and what influences those decisions. The topic was born after taking a Kindness and Interpersonal Relationships course where we discussed topics such as romantic relationships and what it meant to be kind. We also discussed subtopics like cheating, break-ups, polygamy, and more. I was motivated by the conversations I had with my thesis director, Dr. Jameien Taylor, and decided to work with him early on.
I was inspired by Candy Chang’s installation Confessions and after researching and collecting survey responses I decided to create a similar creative project. The objective of my creative project was to gather quotes from my survey responses and showcase them to my local community in an exhibition format. I included a participation component to initiate a conversation with those who attended and those around them.
The exhibition displayed acrylic circles with the quotes. The circles were painted with specific colors to make the quotes more visible and to evoke emotion in a way that represented the content best.
What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
My freshman year I was a business administration major because I felt this was my path back when I wanted to start my own business.
However, one day during my first semester I was sitting in Dr. (Ramsey Eric) Ramsey’s office, the dean of Barrett West, and we had an in-depth conversation about my experience with ASU and my major. When I mentioned I was a business admin major, he looked at me with a curious face and then suggested I seemed like a communication major and asked me what my favorite class was. To my surprise, it was a communication class! From that point forward I began taking more communication classes to figure out what fit my area of interest and I quickly became passionate about communication and its wonders.
Since then, my academic experience changed drastically and I cannot imagine receiving my degree in any other field. Growing up, I’ve always been very social and loved talking to others and to be able to study something that I absolutely love is such a great privilege to me. It brings a smile to my face and a warm hug to my heart when people ask me “what’s your major?” and they reply with “wow! I can see it!” or “that fits you so well!”
What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Coming to college I struggled tremendously with homesickness. It was as if my emotions were drowning me, and I couldn’t escape. Throughout this experience I was searching for ways to go home, talking to many different people to find a solution and nothing worked. It wasn’t until I made the decision to fight against my own mind that I realized how powerful our minds are.
Overcoming my homesickness changed my perspective on how I live my life and the way I see those around me. It disconcerts me how much we let the voices in our heads influence the way we live our lives and I have decided to work towards fighting to be a better me daily. I firmly believe that coming to ASU not only gave me the academic knowledge to succeed in the world but has taught me life lessons that I would have not learned elsewhere.
Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? What was that lesson?
I was fortunate enough to have a diverse range of professors that had very valuable insight on life, but one in particular impacted the way I saw myself both as a professional and a person with many roles (daughter, sister, friend, student, employee, mentor, etc.). I was fascinated by the way he is as a person and how that translates in the classroom. Dr. Jameien Taylor showed me respect in a way that no one else ever has.
Although I was a student, he treated me like an actual adult and a human being who wasn’t “just a college student.” He taught me to value my opinion and stand firm in what I believe in, but to also listen and be aware of those in the room. He’s taught me that there’s always more to learn, even beyond schooling and that we continue to learn on a daily basis. I was in awe of his humbleness and how he says a lot in the classroom by listening closely to what his students have to say and rarely voicing his opinion to let his students explore all aspects of the discussion. I’ve never felt more listened to and cared for than I did when I was in Dr. Taylor’s class and I can only hope to be a fraction of who he is to those around me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
Get to know yourself and take advantage of the resources offered. The best thing I ever did in college was find people who became part of my support system and that included people in the residence hall to deans in the Deans Office and everything in between. The smartest thing you can do is take advantage and look for all the resources that you normally wouldn’t have access to.
What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
I love all parts of West campus. However, my ultimate favorite spot that has an emotional connection to me would be Delph Courtyard. This was the space I would go to when I was homesick and didn’t know where to go. As a freshman, I immediately found a sense of comfort here and it became a place where I could finally let my guard down and cry in peace. Being homesick made me consider dropping out and going back home and Delph gave me the space to reflect and make important decisions regarding the next four years. Now, as a future graduate I soak in the space, reflect on those decisions I made and reaffirm myself that staying at ASU was the best gift I ever gave to myself.
If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
I believe that one of the largest problems on our planet that can also be the root of other problems is mental health.
I was first introduced to this term as a first-year student but prior to this, the term didn’t even exist in my life. I was never taught about mental health at home and emotions were always something that were invalidated in my culture – especially when it came to gender norms.
Coming to college, I had the opportunity to attend counseling services during one of the biggest mental battles in my life, and believe me when I say this experience changed my life.
I feel as if everyone needs to go to counseling despite how big or small their trauma or situation is. It’s a place where one can heal and learn ways to improve their lifestyle. The process of healing is not an easy one and having a community that is supportive is a total game-changer.
Many think of counseling as a place for those who have experienced severe trauma or for those who are considered “crazy.” I’ve realized that counseling is a place for those who want to heal from things that have hurt us in our lives and want to learn how to advocate for ourselves in toxic environments or learn how to walk away from them.
It’s not an easy process and requires self-reflection, vulnerability and lots of effort for it to work. If I wasn’t at ASU I would have not been able to afford to get the help I needed and bring what I’ve learned back home to my own family and community.
Because of this, if I had those $40 million I would allocate it to provide resources to improve mental health to create a healthier environment for those on Earth and for those to come. The silent battles are the deadliest and everyone deserves to heal, be validated and listened to.