Student Spotlight - Rilee Louangphakdy

An aspiring motivational speaker and entrepreneur, Rilee Louangphakdy never dreamed he would accomplish one of his dreams – to speak at a TED Talk – while still in college. Rilee was accepted to several universities but chose to attend Everett Community College first so he could "save an insane amount of money" and get a great education close to family. Sharing his story of overcoming depression after the loss of a beloved family member, he has spoken at YMCA and TEDx events. Watch Rilee's TEDxSnoIsleLibraries talk below.

Tell me about yourself.
I’m 20 years old, graduated in the class of 2015 from Marysville Getchell High School (International School of Communications), and I’m Asian-American. Outside of school, I enjoy photography and videography.

Why did you choose EvCC? 
I chose EvCC because it was close to home, affordable, and the education/campus has been flourishing. I was accepted to a few universities, but I wanted to stay closer to home (in Marysville) in order to directly support my family. Also, EvCC would save me an insane amount of money and stress of moving, while still providing great education (from what I’ve heard from friends and teachers alike). 

What are you studying?
Currently, I’m pursuing a transfer degree in speech communications. When I transfer to a university, I want to major in Media & Communications, as well as hopefully minor in something related to business, marketing, or teaching.

When will you complete your EvCC education? 
This quarter (Spring 2017) is [hopefully] my last quarter before I finished my 90 credits for the degree. As long as something bad doesn’t happen!

Who helped you succeed at EvCC? (faculty members, staff) What did that person do to help you? 
In the Fall 2015 quarter, Kathryn Johnson (my college success teacher at the time) was the first faculty member I became close with. She introduced me to the specific people and resources at EvCC that could help me with where I was trying to go with my education. Then, she pointed me towards Jo-Ann Sickles, who was (and still is) a HUGE help. Now, Andrew T. Wahl has been personally helping me with my specific and unique career choice, who has been extremely helpful as well as equally enthusiastic as I am. Also, Lynne Munoz has been giving me a lot of relevant and critical help with plans as well. 

Talk about some of the struggles you have faced and how you have overcome.
After my cousin died, my life turned into a nightmare. Everything I was accustomed to was brutally changed without warning; my home had become a place I dreaded to be, and school turned into another place I tried to avoid because I couldn't focus in school and my grades severely dropped. During this point of my life, I truly felt like I had no place I belonged to (or no place I wanted to be).

At some point between darkness and desperation, I started looking to my deceased cousin as motivation. I made an oath to live the life he couldn't live, and to make a positive impact on other people's lives - just like how he impacted mine. After that, I started doing a lot better because I found friends I could call family and teachers I can trust my life with. Now, I'm doing a lot better, and I owe it all to the stories I've connected with. 

What advice do you have for new EvCC students? 
I can’t stress enough about meeting new people and expanding your circle. You can only do so much on your own, and college is a lot more enjoyable when you have people you know. Even if you’re the type of person to just go to school and go straight home afterwards (because I used to be like that), I really suggest that you make new friends and new connections. It’s not necessarily about what you know; rather, it’s about whom you know.

What do you plan to do next?
My career plans are a little unorthodox and all over the place. I'm currently working on a lot of things that contribute to what I want to do in the future; but to make a long story short, I want to be a public/motivational speaker and an entrepreneur (that has to deal with inspiring/guiding others). My back-up plan for now is to work in some sort of city or non-profit position that has to do with helping others. As cliche as this sounds, I've always had a passion for helping others. I've always put others before myself in order to help them. However, when I went through what I did, I realized that I especially wanted to help others, support and guide them, and set an example for them. I wanted to do that for a living- almost like being a superhero. I've been volunteering and mentoring ever since late middle school, and am still enjoying that to this day. The reason why I have this passion is because I don't want to see others go through the pain that I - and others - had/have to go through. Simple as that.

Right now, I’m currently working for the city of Everett as an assistant/deliverer for the recreational supervisor. I want to transfer to the University of Washington-Bothell (or the strategic communications program with WSU) - if I get accepted. Other than that, I’m working on a few projects that have to do with my aspirations for public speaking and entrepreneurship.

Describe the best experience you had at EvCC. 
Honestly, a big part of my time at EvCC (besides attending classes) is spent in the library or the café studying and doing homework. However, I really enjoyed the events that Student LIFE put together. They really go all out with their events; I especially like the club fests and kick-offs!

How were you chosen to speak at TedXSnoIsleLibraries
I was actually the one that initiated the process by submitting an idea to talk about- similar to applying for a job. It was really unplanned and on the spot, and I actually ended up submitting my idea (literally) at the last minute of deadline. I honestly didn’t think anything of my submission since I figured there were plenty of professionals that were signing up. However, they emailed me saying they wanted to meet with me to further discuss my idea. After that, they extended the opportunity of speaking at the 2016 event! I was speechless.

How would you summarize your message shared at TedX, YMCA and your graduation?
For starters, my graduation speech was more limited than you think. We were on a tight schedule since my school had the four individual SLCs (small learning communities), so I didn’t have a lot of breathing room for my ideas. However, that speech was basically talking about the impact of the SLC system, and how my class was able to connect with one another in order to make the high school experience successful and memorable. My YMCA talks are about my life story, and how the programs at the YMCA influenced the recovery stages of my life so far. The TEDx talk is an elaborated, more refined version of those talks - emphasizing more on the impact that the word “sonder” had on my life, rather than focusing on the YMCA.

What was the TedX experience like?
I was one of the youngest people on the line up (there were two other incredible high schoolers- a sophomore and a senior I believe), so I was actually pretty nervous because I considered myself the least experienced and credible in the world of public speaking. However, the other speakers were all so sincere and genuine, and extremely kind to me. The coaches were uplifting in effort to get me to be the best I could be, and the other speakers were really helpful as well. My TEDx experience was an exhausting journey, but it was definitely a memorable one that will set the stage for the next chapter in my life.

Anything else you want to add? 
In freshman year, I made it a dream/life goal that I would speak at a TED talk in the future.  Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I believe I would accomplish that so soon in my life. From that experience, not only did I confirm my passion for public speaking, but I also realized that I want work towards being a storyteller and collector (my personal word for public speaker). I hope I can be an example to others to never give up on their dreams.

While he was an EvCC student, Rilee Louangphakdy spoke at the 2016 TEDxSnoIsleLibraries event in Edmonds, Wash.