Nothing in her experience prepared Cassidy Kesler for what she was about to learn that summer while sitting across from several hostile young men.
As an intern from the University of California-Los Angeles participating in a sociology research project in Washington, D.C., Cassidy was interviewing teens who knew the grisly life of living behind bars. They weren't prone to smile and seemed to measure life by the size of their pain. Cassidy's purpose was to find a more effective means of rehabilitation than incarceration.
"This was an eye-opener," she simply said, contrasting her experience of growing up with her four siblings in a home of love and acceptance in Holladay, Utah.
"Every day during that summer she stepped off the Metro and walked about eight blocks to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice through a neighborhood where I wouldn't want to walk," said her father, Henry. "She was very courageous."
Her findings were the substance of a 25-page report that drew recognition. But perhaps Cassidy's most significant discovery that summer was the confirmation that "kids have great potential." This realization deepened her long-held desire to spend life helping those youth who knew only of life's misery.
"I'm really passionate about helping," she later told a review panel at UCLA. For her convictions and for her contributions, this panel named Cassidy as one of six "Bruinlife Seniors of the Year" of the class of 2000 prior to her graduation last spring.
"I took advantage of every opportunity to serve," she said. "Whether it was on campus, or in the Church, or in the dormitories, I tried to learn and give."
As a freshman she volunteered every week to tutor a 5th-grade girl in an inner-city school. "It was a great experience helping someone from a different environment where drive-by shootings were a way of life," she said. "I never saw that while growing up." For her devotion, she was named director of the program the next year.
During her junior year, she was called as president of the Church-sponsored sorority, Lambda Delta Sigma, where she organized projects. The key, she said, to extending yourself is getting excited about many things and prioritizing time. "I honestly believe I did better when I had many priorities and had to strike a balance," she said. "I did better by having more to do." — Shaun D. Stahle
Another in a series of "Shining Moments."
Illustration by John Clark.