Karen Wira

Karen Wira in front of the EKU water tower, 1970


An alumna’s college career isn’t just a story to reminisce about. Alumni are a part of history and exemplify how American society has progressed over the years. My grandmother, Karen Wira, age 70, has found success in the business field since she graduated from EKU. 

Growing up, because of how successful and put together my grandmother is, I just assumed that she was born and raised in the city, specifically Chicago. I was shocked when she told that she grew up in Grethel, a small town in Eastern Kentucky. I have been inspired by my grandmother for years, and I wanted to share her story to inspire others as well. This piece is based on the story she told me in an interview I had with her.

During the 1970s, the town of Grethel was very rural. Tucked into the mountainous, the nearest house wasn’t seen for another ten miles. My grandmother lived with her grandparents, single mother and siblings. Her mother was jobless and strict, and she heavily encouraged her children to go to college and become successful in their lives. Wira was passionate about learning and eager to prove herself, so she was all for it. 

However, as her family didn’t have the money to send my grandmother to school, she had difficulty finding a college perfect for her. Luckily, her high school counselor saw her potential and helped her find a way to continue her education. Then when what today is Eastern Kentucky University offered her scholarships to attend, she was suddenly packing up and moving to Richmond at only age 17.

My grandmother remembers America in the 60’s as being rather chaotic, yet flourishing. When she began her college career the Vietnam War was still in progress, Woodstock was created, and music was becoming experimental. In the wider world outside of Grethel, my grandmother would begin facing new obstacles. 

According to my grandmother, her biggest challenge was that society wasn’t accepting the idea that everyone should attend college, including women. But my grandmother was not easily shaken by this and pressed onward for her degree.

In the Marketing and Business Department, there were very few female students. My grandmother’s fellow male students didn’t seem to care about this fact, but one of her professor was a different story.

My grandmother recalls how whenever there were difficult problems to explain and solve the professor would choose her to answer them. However, my grandmother was always glad to answer, with plenty of details and evidence for support. 

Once, my grandmother accidentally didn’t read an upcoming case for class due to other responsibilities. Wanting to be honest, she decided to inform the professor that she forgot to read the case. The professor attempted to embarrass her by announcing her mistake for the entire class to hear. However, my grandmother said she wasn’t afraid to put him in his place, and told him that his overreaction was unnecessary. 

From the 1950s to the present, a woman’s chance on earning college degrees and joining the workforce seems to have progressed. When I asked my grandmother about her opinion on this, she said, “I think the change of women in college and working has been good. Despite there being new complexities and negative connotations today, people- especially women, just need to avoid and walk around those obstacles to keep going and succeed.”

My grandmother’s story has been very inspirational to me as a female attending EKU. There were times when she continuously encouraged me to go for what I want in life and work hard for my dream, to become a great writer. Despite her being faced with different obstacles, she always said how she never regretted going to college and was thankful for the great memories and friends she made.

After graduating college, she began working in the Marketing business at several advertising firms and large corporations, such as Budget Rental and Midas. She’s travelled around the world numerous times, working for a variety of clients, and eventually she got married and became a mother. Today, she’s now a proud grandmother still working in the business world by consulting with clients. 

America certainly has started to accept that anyone can study and work in whatever field they want. But America and other countries all over the world can still improve even more on that matter. I certainly hope that there will be more people like my grandmother in the future. Those who can achieve their goals even when things get difficult, and obsicles seem to great. Those who know what they want and go out and get it, just as my grandmother did.

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