Changing the World...One Graduate at a Time
Penny Kamkourkong, CPA, MBA, CFE
2013, Bachelor of Science
Assistant Manager, The Siegfried Group
Penny Kamkourkong, believes, to the core of her being, that she would not be where she is – or even who she is today without the faith Felician University had in her from the very start. That faith came in the form of a full scholarship, without which Penny could never have attended Felician. That faith dramatically changed the entire course of her life, and she is absolutely determined to show her gratitude to the University by paying it forward to future Felician students whose lives are, right at this very moment, waiting to be changed forever by Felician’s generosity.
Penny’s story, her journey to Felician and beyond, began in Thailand, on the outskirts of Bangkok. She grew up there an only child, the daughter of a schoolteacher mother and a father in police administration. The first of her life-changing experiences occurred in her sophomore year in high school, when she came to Elson High School in Eldon, MO as a foreign exchange student. As Penny tells it, “I got out of my comfort zone. It was the first time I was on a plane. The first time I went to a different country. The first time I actually used English on a day-to-day basis, versus in a classroom or at some malls in Bangkok where they speak English.” A lot for a 15 year-old to take in. “It was definitely an eye opening year for me!”
When Penny returned to Thailand, she found her world had broadened. “My community of friends became very different because it was expanded to foreigners like, for example, somebody who’s more familiar with international businesses and things like that. The circle of people that I could comfortably surround myself with was expanded.” From that point on, Penny knew that she wanted to push the boundaries of her world, she wanted to take part in the opportunities so abundantly available in the developed countries of the world – so she began to focus on attending college in the U.S. or other English speaking countries like the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. She was a young girl with a mission!
Penny was first exposed to Felician when the International College Fair came to Bangkok. Penny was an eager 11th grader and at each booth she approached, she asked about scholarship availabilities and special programs that set each university apart. Felician stood out because of the possibility of receiving a generous scholarship and because the University is situated so near New York City, which was an exciting prospect. She spent the next year studying hard, getting a tutor, doing practice tests for the SAT and ACT and adding extra-curricular activities to her resume. She wanted to make sure she would be in good shape when Felician came back to Bangkok in her Senior year. She wanted to stand out in both academics and her ability to contribute to Felician. And it worked. She did stand out.
“Thailand is not a rich country, by any means. People struggle to pay for day to day necessities, much less pay for school. And paying for school also means getting clothes, and shoes, and textbooks.” So a full scholarship was the only way Penny Kamkourkong would be able to come to the United States to attend Felician University. She applied… and waited….and waited. And when the Felician letter finally arrived, by snail-mail, she saw that it was a very thin envelope and immediately concluded that the envelope was holding a one-page rejection. When she opened the letter, her eyes were drawn to the words, “First year, full tuition, second year, full tuition…” and she realized that she had been awarded a full scholarship to attend Felician. “Oh, my gosh, my mom, my dad, couldn’t even believe it. My dad said, ‘”I need to read this! I need to see it!’” “It’s the real thing,” Penny assured her father. “I’m going!”
“It was a great day!” she recalls, her face beaming now, nearly 14 years later. Penny is speaking from Atlanta, where she’s working on a project. She travels around the country for the Siegfried Group of Cleveland using her impressive leadership and accounting skills to help clients tackle a variety of big projects. Every new project, every new city is a challenge and an adventure for her. And Penny loves challenge and adventure. She thrives on it. Her grand goal in life is to become financially independent – sooner rather than later – and to travel the world. “I want to go places,” Penny enthuses. “I want to explore everywhere I can all around the globe, seeing new places, conquering new things!”
When jokingly asked if she’d go to the moon, Penny doesn’t hesitate to answer an enthusiastic “Yes, I would do whatever it takes to go! I’d work out to prepare myself, I’d scuba dive in the ocean, to be able to learn how to control the pressure. I would absolutely do that!”
But, beyond all the far-flung adventures she hopes to thoroughly enjoy, the thing that drives Penny in her deepest heart, the thing that gives her life its meaning, its purpose is unquestionably, Giving. In the same way Felician completely changed her life, opened all the doors she has gratefully passed through, Penny wants to open doors for others in need, for others who might never get to college without a hand up, without someone showing faith in them, just as Felician showed faith in the young girl from Thailand.
She learned career skills at Felician, and she learned values. Every day, on campus, her entire Felician experience was imbued with those values. “Whether it’s compassion for others, helping others in need, respect for human dignity, this is what you learn at Felician. It underpins everything.” She goes on, “They have this inclusive culture and I never felt like I was not a part of it. Even though I’m Buddhist, even though I was a minority at the University, I never felt that way ever. The nuns all gave me hugs, I’d go to mass respectfully, I joined clubs, I was part of everything and never once felt excluded. I could focus on what I was there to do, which was go to school and grow to my full potential.”
And that’s what Penny wants for others. “I can have solidarity with people in need because I’ve been on both sides of being needy. And I’m on the side now that I’m able to give – of my time and financially.”
When asked why 2023 is a special year for the graduates of 2013, Penny ponders the question for a moment and then responds, “Ten years is a milestone in life. You might go from graduating college to reaching a pinnacle in your career, you might be married, you might have kids. It’s a good time to reflect on where you were and where you are now. For me, it’s a good time to look back and know that I wouldn't have gotten where I am today without the help of Felician. Our tenth anniversary is a good time to make a commitment to those young people who are just starting out, who may not have a chance without our assistance, our commitment to make that pivotal difference in their lives.”
Penny’s eyes well up with tears when she reflects on all she’s received and the ineffable satisfaction she feels when she gives to others in need. Not only at Felician, but back in Thailand, where she sponsors a young girl and makes it possible for her to go to school. “A dollar is worth so much more over there, you know. It’s only a couple of hundred dollars a year to send these kids to school. And I send them some books and notebooks. And I send shoes, too, just to make sure that they’re comfortable walking to school”.
Felician gave generously to Penny Kamkourkong. Now, in deep gratitude for all that was given to her, for the faith that was shown in her, Penny is giving to new students in need. That’s what Felician University Alumni do. That’s what Felician Franciscan Values are all about.