Student Spotlight: Lisa Kleidon
Major: Video and Game Design
In high school, Lisa Kleidon was very confused about what she wanted to choose as a career.
"I felt like everyone around me already knew and were on their ways, yet I was still stuck and left behind. With the pressure building, I felt like a failure," she said. "I knew I wasn't ready to decide on my major just yet, so I ended up deciding I needed more time to mature. However, I didn't want to just stop after high school. I knew that wouldn’t help me, so I figured I should at least get some general education credits done and involve myself in the things I love, and even new things that I didn't necessarily love yet. That way, I could still keep moving forward."
Knowing that her parents wouldn't be able to help pay for college, Kleidon wanted a school she could afford while still receiving a quality education. She selected College of DuPage because of its reputation, cost and wide variety of clubs. In fact, it was her first choice.
When she was named a Presidential Scholar, an impressive award that includes a full-tuition scholarship and enrollment in COD's Honors program and the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, Kleidon was overjoyed. It gave her hope in what she felt was a hopeless situation.
"I didn't start out in the best place," she said. "I was fairly shy, awkward, very overweight, and my family wasn't exactly wealthy to begin with, so I was bullied very harshly until high school. I was often so isolated in my struggles that there was once a point in time where I didn't know how to talk to or trust anyone other than a few select family members. Later in life, I learned that I developed PTSD and depression because of the bullying and other issues, so these struggles were very real. In high school, they seemed so impossible to overcome that I started to believe that I would never be good enough; I wanted to give up.
"One day, one boy changed this. He didn't get rid of my problems -- no one but I could at that point. But he showed me that I'm not a failure. The only failure that exists is giving up on life completely. He showed me that I don't need to be perfect to have good opportunities. At one point, he used himself and his brother as examples. They may have not have had the easiest lives or the perfect personalities, but they're doing OK and with schools like COD to help them, they can rebound. I realized that he was right, so I decided I wanted to make my life better. With my newfound hope, I got help, and my life has transformed since then.
"I never could have imagined earning a full scholarship, but I did. I can't help but want to work harder than I ever have. I feel important."
Kleidon credits several others for helping her feel more comfortable, especially her senior year English teacher, Kari Karubas.
"One of the most important parts of my experience in her classroom was that I felt I could be myself," she said. "I felt I could involve myself and share my ideas more easily without worrying that someone would harshly criticize me. Ms. Karubas not only got our class to respect her but each other, not by force but by using respect itself. We were treated like young adults, not like inexperienced children. Ms. Karubas is not only a wonderful teacher but a spectacular role model."
Kleidon also credits her father for all of his hard work.
"I was still able to be on the honor roll throughout middle school and high school, even with my problems. This all thanks to my dad, who has been working hard every day of his life since he was 12. He would go to work and school full time to support his family, who were raised in poverty. He's worked so hard that by the time I was born, he had barely enough money to move to the suburbs from the inner city. But he did. Every single day, he continues to work hard and sacrifice everything just so me and my sister can have a better, safer future than him. To this day, I do everything in my power to take everything he's taught me and run with it. We don't always agree, but even so, just his presence has been one of the biggest influences in my life."
With her newfound confidence, Kleidon decided to pursue a career goal that she's passionate about: art and video game design.
"I have loved drawing and playing video games since I was very, very young," she said. "My grandma would babysit me frequently, and some of my happiest memories were drawing with her and the time I would spend playing the GameBoy Color she gave to me.
"The competitive art world initially scared me off. I thought I wasn't good enough to be successful in that field without getting straight A's and being a perfect student. But I realized over time that art and video game design are my true passions, that going into that field would make me happier and allow me to share my creative streak that I've harbored since early childhood. I would feel so much more fulfilled doing this, and I realized that I AM good enough. I've learned that it's never too late to figure out who you really want to be, and no one should ever be afraid of following their dreams."
Her goal is to earn a bachelor's degree in video game design and transfer from COD to an art and technology college. She encourages other students to broaden their horizons and come to College of DuPage.
"The teachers and staff are amazing. Every teacher I've had so far has helped me learn so much already, and the rest of the staff is really friendly and helpful. I almost can't believe that COD is so cheap -- even without a scholarship -- because the quality of everything here is just outstanding. The campus is amazingly clean and well kept, and the multiple student lounges with vending machines and even microwaves are ridiculously convenient. COD is the perfect stair-step on my ascent to success, life satisfaction, and happiness for me, and I'm happy I have the opportunity to go here.
"Two years ago, my parents didn't even think I could make it to any college. Now I have a full scholarship for one of the best community colleges in the country. I'm glad COD exists, and I'm even happier I decided to go here. I have hope for my future, and I now know what I need to do to reach it."
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