2011 Young Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Co-Director of the Conerstone Children’s Home
Major: Creative Writing
"On August 17, 2005, I left for Sudan with the intention of making a
documentary about the construction of a children's home. Things didn't
go as planned."
These are the opening lines of the origin story on Ross Kelly's blog, Deep South Sudan, and are a perfect introduction to Kelly's life after Knox. After graduating from Knox with a major in creative writing in 2003, Kelly taught art for two years at a rural elementary school in Helena, Arkansas, through Teach For America.
The summer before he was to enter graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts to study film directing, he learned about an American organization, Fulaa Lifeline International, which was planning to build a home for orphans in Southern Sudan, and decided to defer graduate school for a year to travel to Africa. Instead of staying for a year, Kelly ended up staying for five, ultimately becoming the co-director of the Cornerstone Children's Home, a safe haven for 60 children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or neglected, in Nimule, Sudan. He watched the Cornerstone children move into their newly constructed shelter in October 2010, and returned to the United States shortly after. Greatly affected by the spiritual facets of life in Sudan, Kelly is currently planning to join a graduate school for theology in 2011.
Knox Magazine: Describe your Knox experience.
Ross Kelly: Where to begin? From the very start to the wonderfully heartbreaking end of my time at Knox, I loved having the freedom to explore a broad array of subjects, and I loved having teachers who were so passionate about sharing their knowledge, their experience, and -- to some extent -- their lives. I felt, especially in my freshman year, like I was hooked up to an IV and getting pumped full of happy drugs. I loved getting to know a large and diverse group of people and getting the chance to form a handful of intimate, life-changing friendships.
KM: How has that experience affected your life?
RK: It's difficult to gauge how much my Knox experience affected my life, but I believe it built up my confidence and my ability to dive headfirst into ever more challenging environments. From my experience as a teacher at a public school in the Mississippi Delta to my experience as a parent and leader at a children's home in South Sudan, I've often felt what I can only describe as the relentless aftereffects of my education. My college years helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the injustices in our world and sharpened my aspirations to fight those injustices with every ounce of my spirit.
KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
RK: My most significant achievement: working and serving with the people of Sudan to create a home for 60 extraordinary kids.
KM: What will you do to celebrate your Alumni Achievement Award?
RK: Maybe I'll have a beer or two at the Seminary Street Pub.
KM: What words of advice would you offer to current Knox students?
RK: There's a vast ocean of people who will never receive the opportunity to be a part of a community like Knox, so take full advantage of the chance you've been given. After you graduate, you probably won't immediately land your dream job or save the planet or write the great American novel. And that's OK. These and other things take time, so don't beat yourself up if your best-laid plans get momentarily pushed aside or even shoved off a cliff. Be adaptable. Be patient with yourself. And find reasons to celebrate even when your world is falling apart.