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Anna Dolezal: A Vandal and a Volunteer

Clarkston native notable for stamina, gratitude

The first time Anna Dolezal walked onto the University of Idaho campus she wasn't bleeding black and gold.

"I never wanted to come to UI," Dolezal said. "I've really done well here, but I really didn't want to come. I remember the day I toured, it was raining and cold; I was in such a bad mood."

If the weather forecast plays out, she may be leaving the same way she arrived — walking in the rain. This time, however, she'll be in her cap and gown, with black and gold close to her heart.

After three and a half years, a twice-collapsed lung, and a heightened passion for volunteerism, Dolezal is graduating with a bachelor's degree in international studies, and she says she wouldn't trade her UI experience for anything.

Dolezal, 22, said she's learned a lot from the school she initially didn't want to attend, and she plans to take what she's learned and give back.

"I get a lot out of people helping other people," she said. "Maybe that's what we're put on this Earth for; if my career was some kind of service to others, I'd be cool with that."

While attending UI, Dolezal traveled on service trips to Peru and Nicaragua, where she worked to dig a 1.5-mile trench to provide water to a local school, worked at a children's home and helped build community gardens, all while earning a 3.9 grade-point average.

Those UI-organized trips and her time spent at the UI Volunteer Center are pushing her to volunteer and do more and more for others, she said.

Her high grades and honors — including being named Outstanding Senior and winning the Guy and Grace Wicks Memorial and the Donald R. and Cora E. Theophilus awards — aren't the whole story of her sometimes rocky time at UI.

Despite her academic success, not many Vandals graduating tomorrow have spent as many days in the hospital as Dolezal did while attending UI.

In total, she spent 16 days in the hospital from two instances of a collapsed lung. The first came in April 2015.

"I missed two weeks with the hospital and recovery, and there were only three weeks left in the semester," she said. "I had to wear an outpatient tube, and when I would cough or sneeze, air would come out of it."

"There were a lot of weird looks, because you're like a robo-human with this box attached to your chest."

That box was a thoracic vent, which helped Dolezal breathe, and the robo-human came out of the semester academically unscathed.

"I wish I was doing an extreme sport or something cool when it happened, but I wasn't," she said.

The lung collapsed again five months later as the next semester was beginning.

"I felt like I played catch-up for the rest of the semester; the academic stuff was a lot harder that go-around," she said. "The first time it was kind of fun — everyone wanted to see you in the hospital. But I began to wonder if it was a more serious health issue."

She was sitting in the hospital with her family when she found out her discharge had been delayed, and she asked everyone in the room to say three things they were grateful for — something she's done since she was young.

"Even when your lung is collapsed, I have medical care, I have parents that will drive up and sit with me every day," she said. "Nothing is as bad as you initially think."

She later underwent a medical procedure called pleurodesis to repair and strengthen the lung tissue, and she's confident the issue has been resolved.

Dolezal, a Clarkston product, credits that same family that drove to see her in the hospital and her time spent at the Congregational Presbyterian Church in Lewiston — preparing Thanksgiving dinner, volunteering for an organization helping teen moms in the LC Valley and building homes in Mexico -— for her giving ways. But she said attending UI and working at the school's volunteer center reinforced the idea she could dedicate her life to giving back.

"To whom much is given, much is expected" she said. "I think I've been given a lot, so I don't want to waste it by thinking about myself. If I can make things easier for others to have similar opportunities and feel that fulfillment, then I've done a good job."

She said she truly began to feel like a Vandal when she started at the volunteer center — meeting new friends with similar interests and feeling she had a place on campus.

Now that Dolezal is leaving UI, she doesn't plan on packing her helping hand away. Rather, she's going to pack up her things and head for Scotland, where she will pursue a master's degree in international and European politics at the University of Edinburgh.

"I hope I can help people understand people in other parts of the world better. When we understand each other's lives and world views, it builds empathy."

Dolezal said she is planning on volunteering at an English teaching school or assisting the university as a sustainability coordinator, finding ways to cut down the university's energy use.

"I think I may get a job over there," she said. "It feels indefinite, like jumping into the abyss."

© Copyright 2017 The Lewiston Tribune, 505 Capital Street Lewiston, Idaho. Written by Josh Babcock. Used with permission.

Anna Dolezal
University of Idaho graduate Anna Dolezal plans to head off to Edinburgh, Scotland, for graduate school. Photo by Steve Hanks, Lewiston Tribune.

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