Caldwell, N.J., May 24, 2021 – Lesley Chung was finishing up her paper for Dr. Joanne Jasmine’s Global Studies and Leadership class in the hospital after giving birth to her daughter. She had originally told her Caldwell University professor that she would not need an extension, but Jasmine, a mother of two, assured her that yes, “you’ll need that extension.”
“I remember filling out the paperwork at three in the morning, saying ‘Dr. Jasmine was right’” about that extension, said Chung, who delivered Caldwell University’s commencement remarks May 23 at the ceremony for master’s and doctoral graduates. “I feel very proud that all the years of my hard work and continuing my education, doing what I have to do for my students and my daughter, seem like they are actually paying off,” said Chung, who received a Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership with a concentration in K-12 education from Caldwell.
In her graduation remarks, she commended her fellow graduates for the “momentous feat” of earning their doctoral and master’s degrees, especially during a year of historic racial injustice and mounting tension, a time when many had to work from home while juggling care for children and other family members. “This past school year taught us that we may indeed face trying times … however, with hard work and perseverance, nothing can stop us. We are unbreakable, unbeatable, undefeated and unstoppable.” She encouraged graduates to go even further in pursuing career paths. “As the late Kobe Bryant once said, ‘Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.’”
Chung has always been a multitasker. While working as assistant vice principal of West Orange High School, she pursued her doctoral degree at Caldwell University, often working until 11 at night on campus or with her dissertation team in Jennings Library on weekends. One night she was having contractions and her aunt drove her to Caldwell for class and sat in the lounge in case Chung went into labor.
The daughter of immigrants—Chung’s mother is from Jamaica, her father is from Guyana and his family came from China—Chung has always loved to learn. “My father would give me books to read and I would have to do my own book report for him … he really did spark a love of reading that I have right now—that I plan to do with my own daughter.” She is grateful to her parents for sacrificing so she could be the first in her family to earn a college degree in the United States, a B.A. in psychology from Rutgers. Her parents have provided a wonderful support system from the time she was young working hard to make ends meet while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree. While going through the doctoral program she relied on the support of her sister, aunt and parents who would meet her halfway on the Turnpike to pick up the baby so Chung could study with her doctoral dissertation cohort.
Chung began her career as a kindergarten teacher in Newark, became a school counselor in West Orange and then moved into administration. Along the way she continued her education, earning a teaching certificate in early childhood education (pre-K-3) from Caldwell University, an M.A. in educational psychology with a minor in child/adolescent clinical psychology from Montclair State University, an expedited M.A. in school administration from the NJEXCEL program, and several other education certificates.
She set her sights on her next goal: to enter higher education, first adjunct teaching. Her experiences at Caldwell and talks with Dr. Barnes—“an awesome mentor”—sparked that interest. Caldwell was the right choice with “close-knit,” small class sizes, her “dissertation family.” With each milestone Chung hits, she knows her efforts are not just for herself but to help inspire the next generation of young people in finding their passions and pursuing their dreams. “Just knowing my nieces and nephew look up to me, reach out to me and see me as a role model, it made me want to do more so that they can see that ‘Hey, I did it. You can do it too.’”