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Student government leader making a mark a long way from home

Tuesday, March 02, 2010  
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By Elizabeth Davies
Posted Mar 02, 2010 @ 12:37 PM
Last update Mar 02, 2010 @ 12:44 PM
Khetsiwe Dlamini doesn’t stand out because she’s from another country.
It’s not because she is the student government president at Rockford College, or because she’s traveled around the globe.

What truly separates Dlamini from her peers is her outlook, which is based on a quote from author and artist Vivian Greene: "Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Dlamini has had plenty of storms in her life. She lives in a small dorm room on the Rockford College campus, about 9,000 miles from her home in Swaziland, Africa. She has lost her father and brother, who died in recent years.

And yet, she honors their lives with her own unmistakably positive outlook.

"You have to look at the larger picture, not at the moment,” Dlamini said. "It’s little things that make you laugh in the hard times.”

One of those moments happened in the days after her father’s death, when one of her sisters nudged Khetsiwe — an admitted "daddy’s girl” and cracked, "Guess you can’t be spoiled anymore!” It lightened the mood and began the healing.

It was actually Dlamini’s father who brought her to Rockford College. Dlamini chose Rockford College after attending a reunion with her father in 1998. She was a young teenager at the time, one who looked up to her father and liked the idea of attending the same school he did.

Selby Dlamini attended Rockford College from 1964 to 1968, studying pre-med through a program with the World Health Organization. He brought back with him the knowledge to work as a physician in his homeland, but he also returned with a lifetime of stories and experiences to share with his family.

"He gave us so many stories,” Khetsiwe Dlamini said. "You learn a lot about those places.”

Today, Khetsiwe Dlamini has stories of her own. She’s met other international students, learned firsthand about the American culture and experienced independence in a big way.

"Distance is not easy,” said Dlamini, who admits to being homesick her freshman year. "Going home wasn’t practical.”

But she jumped into her new world at Rockford College with both feet, taking a job at the school’s computer lab and getting involved in campus programs. She is serving as student government president this semester, working toward improving life for the school’s 1,400 students.

So far, she has launched a new Web site and newsletter and has hosted regular meetings with students.

"People will always complain, but they won’t do something,” she said. "So we’re encouraging them to get involved.”

Dlamini just took over the post in January because she studied abroad last semester, making for a short presidency before she graduates in May.

"I’m sad about that,” she said. "But I’m also excited to set a good foundation for the next president.”

She’s also hopeful that she’s taking away valuable leadership and organizational skills that will help her one day apply her business degree to work in Swaziland.

"I’ve been taking this as a job, learning that you can make mistakes, but you grow from them,” she said.

At Rockford College, her efforts and attitude haven’t gone unnoticed.

"Not only is Khetsiwe a great student, but she also possesses a great personality,” Rockford College President Robert Head wrote about her in a school newsletter. "With this perspective and her commitment to excellence, Khetsiwe will be successful throughout life.”

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