This is the sixth in a series of profiles of this year’s graduating class.
Life hasn’t been easy for Donya Gay Locke, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Brooklyn at age 11. From a young age, she’s had to be resilient in the face of personal challenges, but with a strong support system she’s been able to move beyond those obstacles to achieve her dream of helping others. This spring, Locke graduated from Lehman with a degree in social work, a field that she feels will allow her to be of most use to her community.
“I always knew I loved helping people,” explains Locke. She says social work has been her passion since she was thirteen years old. “The reason I chose to go into the field was unfortunate; however, that experience confirmed the fact that this was what I wanted to do. Having personally worked with a social worker, it made me realize the impact of the work they do and how it can influence the lives of so many people.”
Locke says she specifically chose Lehman because of its program in social work, but was equally impressed with the campus and its bucolic setting. As her years as an undergraduate passed, she became involved with the Office of Community Engagement where she participated in several volunteer projects and eventually became an Orientation Workshop Leader (OWL). She says her work as an OWL helped her get to know the campus and how to access all its resources.
“When I first came to Lehman, I was very reserved,” explains Locke. “Now, I am taking the initiative to facilitate volunteer opportunities, participate in talks on campus, lead group discussions, propose ideas to people who are big influences on campus, and so forth.”
Volunteerism has also played a major role in Locke’s undergraduate experience at Lehman. Through the Lehman LIFE organization, she traveled to New Orleans, working with Habitate for Humanity to rebuild homes for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She’s also worked with Part of the Solutions (POTS), Visiting Neighbors, Bronx Is Blooming, Jumpstart, Computers for Youth, Cabrini Adult Day Care, Free Arts New York, and more.
This month, Locke is visiting South Africa for two weeks, where she will volunteer with three different organizations: Mayibuye Archives, where she plans to archive and learn more about the culture of Cape Town; Nkosi’s Haven, where she will work with women and children who are HIV positive; and the Alexandria Society for the Elderly.
This fall, she will begin her master’s degree at Columbia University—she was accepted into its Advance Standing one-year master’s program.
“I moved around a lot, and I never lived with my parents. For most students that can be difficult—not having that structure to help keep everything together. Fortunately for me, I had a strong support system, and they were all rooting for my success. I have been faced with many stressful situations, and only God knows how I overcame them,” explains Locke.
Her ultimate goal in life is “to pay it forward” by helping to motivate young people and providing them with resources to help them succeed.