Ashleigh du Plessis’s children were nine, seven, and two when she and her husband moved them from Cape Town, South Africa to Vermont in the summer of 2019. The family arrived on a Sunday, and on Tuesday Ashleigh started classes at CCV-Upper Valley. “I just had to hit the ground running,” she said. “I probably wasn’t even really awake, but I was there and I was taking notes.”
When Ashleigh graduated from high school, she didn’t have a clear sense of what direction she might take if she continued her education. “And so it sort of watered down that drive,” she said. Instead of college, she went straight into the workforce. She briefly pursued nursing school, but left to focus on her family. “I was starting to think I was destined to train as I go and not pursue any formal school training.”
But on a visit to her husband’s family in Vermont, the idea of moving here to come to school began to germinate. Both she and her husband had spent time abroad for various jobs, and they liked the idea of getting out more. “There was a bit of a travel bug inside of us,” Ashleigh remembers. So they made the move to Vermont, and Ashleigh worked with CCV’s director of admissions and her academic advisor to get settled into a full-time schedule on the path to a STEM studies degree.
As an international student, Ashleigh has brought a unique perspective to her classes—and also been able to think about her home country differently. “There were some classes where I realized ‘I don’t know enough about my own country, and here I am representing it in another land…’ so it was a bit of a kick that I needed in some places,” she said. She took opportunities to draw on her experiences, or learn more about South Africa, and bring that into a class discussion or presentation. At the same time, she was learning firsthand about life in the U.S. “I think when you live outside of America and the only impression you have of America is what you see either on the news or in (I’m ashamed to say) the movies, and then you come here and you realize that things aren’t quite like you think they are, and you learn about that, and you learn from people…you’re able to add that to what you’ve lived through in your own country, and you’re able to see these things we have in common and I didn’t think we would have in common, or these things are completely different to the systems we have in our country.”
Saturday, June 5 2021 at 2:00 p.m.
Visit graduation.ccv.edu to view our virtual celebration.
Ashleigh was determined to put herself out there and get to know the community, so she joined the Student Advisory and Leadership Council and served as a peer mentor. “Initially I was focused on just settling…Vermont was new and I felt a responsibility to settle my children quite quickly, but over not a long period of time it became apparent that I couldn’t just sort of observe the community that I was in.” Through leadership activities, she was able to build connections with peers that helped her adjust not only to life in Vermont, but life as a CCV student. “It’s completely, without a doubt added to my experience as a student.”
Ashleigh has applied for a one-year work permit that would allow her to stay in Vermont and explore her interests in healthcare and education. “There’s been so much more to learn than just the courses that I’ve taken…and it’s led to so many places that I didn’t really consider and it would be a shame for me to not pursue that…I really believe that I can use what I’ve learned and either share it with somebody else or grow it a little bit more, and really make some sort of impact.”
This spring, Ashleigh was selected to be the student speaker for the Class of 2021. She’ll address her peers during a virtual celebration honoring both the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020 on Saturday, June 5. She’ll be joined by 2020 student speaker Amanda Letourneau, who studied at CCV’s Newport center.
The virtual celebration will be streamed at 2 p.m. CCV President Joyce Judy will officiate, and Governor Phil Scott will also address both classes. Local activist and educator Patricia Fontaine will receive the Community Service Award. Fontaine, a former CCV faculty member, has given generously to the College, helping to grow its student services and student leadership opportunities. J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation President Barbara Benedict will receive a special Impact Award given in honor of CCV’s 50th anniversary in 2020. Benedict and the McClure Foundation have been strong partners with CCV in working to increase access to postsecondary education in Vermont.
Long-time Rutland faculty member Pam Monder, who has also served as the faculty advisor for the Student Advisory and Leadership Council and CCV’s chapter of the national honor society Phi Theta Kappa, will receive the Faculty Community Service Award.
Ashleigh says she’s both proud and nervous about being the 2021 student speaker, and she’s looking forward to being able to share her graduation celebration with family back in South Africa. “I guess when my parents see it I’m hoping they’ll think ‘you know, that undecided teenager who wasn’t sure after high school what was gonna happen, you know, she’s persevered through these two years and she can now speak on behalf of the students’—[that] feels like a big deal.”