May 06, 2017

Sehie Olivia Koh(This is part 4 in a four-part series on Detroit Mercy Valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh. Read Part 1, read Part 2 and Part 3.)

As Detroit Mercy valedictorian Sehie Olivia Koh was deciding where to attend college, she found herself drawn to Detroit Mercy because of its commitment to community service and its pre-dental program. She was also intrigued by the City of Detroit’s story.

“I picked Detroit because I wanted to pick somewhere I could make a difference,” Koh said. “Somewhere that needs it. Every place has needs, but I felt like Detroit had a story, and I knew if I wanted to do something health-related that I could see cases here that I wouldn’t see in upper-class neighborhoods. I also knew there has to be people here whose stories are interesting. I’m interested in people’s stories. Just what’s going on? Why is there so much trash talking about Detroit? Why do people get scared when I say that I’m moving to Detroit? It just intrigues me. I wanted to see for myself what it’s all about. Wherever I go, I know I do service, so I wanted to see what the stories were like and how I could help these people that everyone else is scared of.”

Koh decided to major in Biochemistry because she felt it would give her the challenges she needed to prepare for dental school.

"I wanted a challenge,” Koh said. “I knew dental school would be hard, so I knew I had to pick something hard here so I could prepare myself for that. If I’m not doing enough, I get bored. I just wanted to be pushed as hard as I could. I did Biochemistry and a double minor in Business and Leadership because those are completely different languages. Leadership is cool because it stimulates your emotions, and I didn’t think my other classes would. But with business, it’s a completely different language so it’s like juggling two languages. I thought that was interesting and another challenge.”

Koh considers human anatomy and Leadership 2000 her two favorite classes. She enjoyed the challenge of human anatomy, even though it was her lowest undergraduate grade. She enjoyed Leadership because it challenged her emotionally.

“This class made me feel like I was coming to relax and also be challenged,” Koh said. “Just the conversations we had and the people who were there because it’s not a typical class, it’s a bunch of different majors. The willingness for people to be open, it didn’t occur all at once. I think it was Dr. Don (DiPaolo) who really pushed us to open up. After a few weeks, one person opened up and then another person opened up, then one person would cry and another person would share an emotional story, and it just became a classroom of support.”

Koh also credits the support of professors Gerard Albright, S.J., and Klaus Friedrich for helping her get through a rough period during her sophomore year. Koh says neither one knew what was truly going on, but their support got her through it.

“She always tried to do her best,” Friedrich said of Koh. “Even during the time when things were difficult, she stuck with it. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, something went wrong and now I can’t do this assignment.’ She never once said that. She never pitied herself. She did what needed to be done. She did what she knew she had to do to be successful. And at the same time, she looked out for others. It’s remarkable. She’s certainly deserving of being valedictorian.”

During her time at Detroit Mercy, Koh didn’t limit herself to the classroom. Koh served as the president of the Pre-Dental Association, was on the board of Alpha Phi Omega, worked three jobs including one as a resident advisor, was a presidential ambassador, co-founded a charity fashion show and still found time to pursue other passions, like fashion and music.

“I like to occupy myself,” Koh said. “I like to push myself to be great. Doing one or two things usually isn’t enough for me. I enjoy spending my time with different types of people from different backgrounds. I feel like that comes through different involvements. I can’t meet a variety of people doing just one club for pre-dental. I like to do a lot of different things and hope to share energy and stories with many people.”

— 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