May 7, 2003
Post staff report
The Cincinnati Post
Some time ago, a Northern Kentucky University professor taking roll mispronounced the name of student Emily Votruba as "Vor-tuba."
Emily raised her hand to show she was present and politely added, "By the way, it's pronounced 'Vo-truba.'"
"Oh, I was confused by that," said the professor, "because we have a president of the university whose name is 'Vor-tuba.'"
Responded Emily, "I don't think he pronounces it that way."
The prof said he believed he did.
"Well, I should know," replied Emily. "He's my father."
The professor, according to Emily, was "totally shocked." But she understood.
While NKU President James Votruba and his wife, Rachel, are Caucasian, they "chose to build our family in a different way from many families."
Their daughter, Emily, is an adopted African-American. Another adopted child is Hispanic. And the couple has a biologcal child.
"Because I'm black and they're white, most people don't make the connection," Emily said. "And, I tried to keep my anonymity. I wanted to be a real college student."
Her father had the same goal.
"When she arrived, I told people here to treat her like every other student," he said. "Don't expect me to cut her any slack. She needs to learn how to handle herself when things go wrong and how to celebrate her successes."
But, father and daughter plan to drop all pretenses May 17.
Emily will be among 1,165 NKU graduating seniors shaking hands with the president at commencement cere-monies.
"I shake hands with graduates at the rate of one every three seconds, but I'm going to slow down a bit for Emily," said the proud father. "It's going to be an emotional time for me. I'm so proud of her."
Emily said it's going to be "very special."
"I'm trying to figure out how I'm not going to burst into tears," she said. "I'm not going to wear eye makeup because it will be all over my face.''
There is a bittersweet note, however. Emily, 25, was diagnosed recently with multiple sclerosis.
"At the end of my junior year, I began having a problem with my leg," Emily said. "All of a sudden it got worse and I couldn't walk as well as I used to.
" Things seemed to get worse and worse. My right hand went limp and my handwriting changed. I lost sight in my right eye for a couple of days. It was frightening. But with treatment, the sight came back. And, sometimes I have problems with balance."
After a brief hiatus from school, Emily returned for her senior year, finished her classes and became eligible to graduate.
"I feel lucky because so many advances are being made in treating MS," she said. "I have a far better chance of living and functioning as a good old human being than in years past."
Her father said he's impressed by how Emily has handled MS. "It's been tough for her this past year. She's just getting ready to launch and she gets that kind of news. But she's a real gritty kid, very talented and motivated."
Besides, added Votruba, his daughter has already learned how to deal with unusual situations.
"Emily had to grow up in two worlds," he said. "Being African-American in a family of white parents and siblings, she had to learn to move comfortably in both those worlds. And she has shown a very special capacity to do that."
Emily said it was difficult when she was younger. "There was more of a psychological push to run to certain groups. You want to be liked. You need to be liked.
"By the time I got to college I had been through enough experiences, good and bad, to realize I've had a unique opportunity to move between different worlds. It became more of a gift than a burden.
"Now, it's nice. I can talk and get along with different types of people. A lot of it comes from my father emphasizing that you should get to know as many different kinds of people as you can."
A communications major who made mostly A's and B's in her classes, Emily said she has so many interests that she hasn't decided what to do after May 17.
"I'm considering law school and perhaps going into entertainment law," she said. "I'm also thinking about getting a master's degree in communications and then getting a Ph.D. and teaching in college.
"But, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea right now. The possibilities
are so overwhelming. I'm going to wait and see where the current takes
Copyright © 2003 The Cincinnati Post