May 04, 2017

Olivia Koh with a boy from Christ Child House(This is part 2 in a four-part series on Detroit Mercy Valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh. Read Part 1Part 3. and Part 4.)

Every college student wants to feel like they’ve left their mark when they graduate, but few people have the impact of Detroit Mercy valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh. Thankfully, two of her passion projects will live on after she graduates. The Movement charity fashion show and the Boys 2 Men service project will both continue in the fall under new leadership.

Detroit Mercy sophomore Yarnise Hines is one of the students who will lead the fashion show next year. Hines said she was motivated to carry on the show because of the impact Koh and the show had on her.

“I think it was a game-changer for me because it really set the tone for my confidence,” Hines said of participating in the fashion show as a model. “She was rooting for me and I felt like I was untouchable. I didn’t care what anybody had to say. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder, telling me stuff like, ‘Go, go, go. Do it, do it, do it.’ Really encouraging me and helping me throughout the whole fashion show. That’s what made me want to get into it because I want to provide what she did to other people, and be a service to them.”

Koh is excited to see the fashion show live on after she graduates and it’s one of the reasons her and co-founder Asia Rawls dubbed it “The Movement.”

“I told them from the beginning, the movement doesn’t stop here,” Koh said. “A movement is continuous. They want to continue the name, ‘The Movement.’ It might have something different before it, but they want to continue the name. We asked for them to continue the charities. I see it as a growth from here on. Hopefully there are a lot more minds going into next year. I’m excited to come back to it and people are already talking about it.”

Koh also created the Boys 2 Men program with hopes it would continue after she graduated.

“It has to go on,” Koh said. “I didn’t have to ask anybody. People were just like, ‘Olivia can I take this? Can I continue to do this?’ It has to go on. I’m so happy there are people out there who want to put in the work and want to further continue to spread to love within our community and outside to others.”

Christ Child House’s Vance Teasley said Koh has always tried to set a good example not only for the boys, but for the volunteers, and did so in hopes she would inspire someone to carry on the project.

“I think it shows her compassion to help the young boys,” Teasley said. “She wants to give these other people who are taking over a ground to stand on and something for them to look forward to because she set a heck of a pace and a heck of a standard. She’s definitely a hard act to follow.”

After graduation, Koh plans to go to South Korea for the summer before she begins dental school at the University of Buffalo.

“Dentistry is definitely an interest of mine, but not my only interest,” Koh said. “It’s one of my passions, it’s a portion of it. My passion is helping people, and I know I can do it in a bunch of different ways.

“I want to do nonprofit work, and I want to it to be focused around a fashion brand. I feel there are a lot of different ways people can express themselves, but I feel like fashion is one thing people have in common, even if you don’t know how to dress, you have to put on clothes. It’s just an idea in my head, it’s just a vision right now, but it’s for myself and some other good people to be able to come together and build a brand that represents a movement of creative people who are free and expressive of themselves with a purpose to go out and serve.

“I kind of practiced it through The Movement Fashion Show this year and it kind of worked. I hope to actually put a brand on it, make it a nonprofit organization where all the profits can go toward getting kids off the streets to ultimately send them to college or get them jobs. I want it to not only be a brand, but also have subdivisions were youth can have a safe and healthy environment to can come in and learn, work, and grow, and even get paid. By working and sharing together this support system, they can be nurtured and pushed to even bigger and better future endeavors. This movement, is for all people to be a part of: for professionals to volunteer their time and skills, for sharing of love, for opportunity to all, for anyone with a heart to further empower one another.”

Koh admits she doesn’t like public speaking and will likely be nervous when takes the stage for her valedictorian speech, but if her past is any indication, she will rise to the occasion.

“I didn’t want to be influenced, I wanted it to be completely mine,” Koh said of her speech. “That’s how I wrote it; I thought about things that mean a lot to me and I want to share. Some come from experiences and hardships, and some are like words of encouragement.

“When I do look back it’s usually to look back at the people I appreciate. Without certain people and certain things that happened, I wouldn’t be close to where I am now. It’s made me stronger. Not being able to go home every weekend or not having certain areas of support, doesn’t keep me from being able to do what I have to do. When I look back, I’m not like, ‘Oh, I’m proud of myself.’ I just think of the people who really helped me or just believed in me and didn’t even really know me.

“Certain people, I just want them to be proud. I want them to be able to look back, and I don’t want them to ever think believing in me was in vain or was a waste. It was them who got me here. It wasn’t just me.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.


What people are saying about Sehie Olivia Koh

“She has not only reached out to an orphanage, she has enabled other students to do the same thing. ‘Hey we have this organization that does this, maybe it could be something for you guys.’ Then the guys went there and did something. That’s remarkable, especially with someone who doesn’t come from a privileged background. She has done most, if not all, of what she does basically driven by herself, by the understanding that this is something she can and should be doing. There are many students who are much more privileged than her, and they don’t understand much of this at all, which is sad, but a reality.” Detroit Mercy Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Klaus Friedrich.

“She likes to stay involved. I think she wants to have an impact and do something. She’s a doer. She doesn’t talk the talk, she walks the walk. I really think it’s her personality; it’s her gift; it’s something you really can’t explain. Some people just have that ‘it.’ You can’t explain it, you can’t mimic it, it’s original. She’s going to do very well in life if she keeps it up. I think it’s something she’s born with and she has that gift of personality, gift of connection. We all have these special things we can do. Some people can draw, some people can sing effortlessly; she can just be Olivia. At a small school like this, you need people like her to keep the energy up.” Charity fashion show co-founder Asia Rawls.

“She is a very special person. She has very creative ideas, and not only does she have these ideas, but she implements them and has the ability to do so on her own. Her drive, her creativity and her free-spiritedness, I haven’t really seen that before, and that’s what kind of drew me to her in the beginning. I always told her she has a vibe or a spirit about her, any time she meets someone, instantly, she connects well with them. Just instantly, and people can kind of pick up on that from her. She has just a genuine, good spirit and it rubs off on people. They can see it without her even having to speak. It’s just amazing.” Friend and Boys 2 Men volunteer Myron Hampton.

On a scale from 1 to 10, I would have to give her an 11. The volunteers were all different kinds of people — athletes, basketball players, lacrosse players, some are going to dental school, they came from all over and different factions. For her to have it organized like she did was just a marvelous job. The vast amount of people involved was a attributed to her tremendous effort.” Vance Teasley, Christ Child House.

“She’s a giver. Of her time, her energy, her wisdom. To me, the relationship we have together, she’s like a big sister. She challenges me to step out of my comfort zone and go for what I want, and not be scared. She’s a selfless person. She’s a leader inside and outside the classroom.” Friend and charity fashion show model Yarnise Hines.

Titan Talk with Sehie Oliva Koh and Asia Rawls