When Kaley Klingler was a child, she wanted to become a veterinarian or anthropologist. She even made plans to build a theme park called Animal World that would have the world’s largest vet hospital attached to it.
But sometimes, she found, things get in the way of dreams – such as experiencing difficulties being away from home, adjusting to college life, living out of your car temporarily, and working multiple jobs to stay out of debt.
Her renewed focus and hard work will pay off Friday morning, however, when she graduates from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management with a bachelor’s degree in the field she eventually discovered and fell in love with: event management.
“I’ve had quite a ride over the last five and a half years,” said Klingler, 23. “Some of my time was not the brightest point in my life.”
Klingler graduated from high school in Indialantic and said that at UCF “stepping onto the main campus that was the size of a city really brought me a lot of different perspectives and a broader view of the world. Everything was like a culture shock and trying to keep up with being an adult.”
Being on her own the first year away from home, however, was difficult to adjust to and she said she struggled with college classes.
She switched to Valencia College, where she earned her AA and where she said she had time to figure out what she really wanted to do.
“I’ve run quite a few races [nine half marathons, a full marathon and smaller distances]. I really loved the atmosphere there and started to think about how it would be to plan events like that,” she said. “I came back to UCF through Rosen…I loved it and the smaller campus.”
Klingler credits Vanessa Cogswell, assistant director of student services and director of the college’s Peer Outreach Mentoring Program, with putting her on the path to graduation.
“She is one of the most giving people I’ve met on the campus,” Klingler said. “She had a support program called POMP that really made me feel like there were people to talk to.”
But the joy of returning to UCF was met soon by other new hurdles unrelated to school.
She found someone online to move in with, but after giving the woman a security deposit and first month’s rent, her new roommate said she had been fired from her job. A week later the woman moved but did not return any deposits. Since Klingler’s name wasn’t on the lease and she couldn’t afford the place on her own, the next six months she lived out of her car and sometimes at friends’ places, all the while working two jobs and attending classes.
Her father was living in Melbourne and her mother out of state, but she felt she couldn’t ask them to help financially.
“They had both helped me a lot already with money for books and clothes or groceries,” she said. “I have a very hard time asking for help because they had already given so much to me.”
By April 2015 she had saved up enough to find her own apartment and was half way through her Rosen coursework, but a month later as she was driving back home on the interstate from Sarasota, another car plowed into her and slammed her car into a concrete barrier.
Again, she had to step back and pick up the pieces.
She considered dropping out, but she said she really loved the Rosen campus and enjoyed her classes.
“In the back of my mind, I knew finishing my degree at this elite hospitality school was my best option,” Klingler said.
Rosen’s Cogswell said the student’s path is an inspiring story of resilience and persistence.
“It was not an easy journey from changing her major and the life circumstances that she had to overcome, but she took advantage of the opportunity that she had earned,” Cogswell said. “Through all of the trials and tribulations, she dedicated herself to completing a degree.”
Looking ahead, Klingler said she has found a passion for planning events in the emerging field of eSports, competitions that are facilitated by electronic systems and where prize pools have reached into millions of dollars.
“That’s my new goal, and five and a half years after starting with anthropology in mind, I’m finally ready to finish my last courses and begin a great career in events,” she said.
“I’m hoping to become a pioneer in the eSports industry as it becomes more prominent. I see my life as a big adventure and can’t wait for the next chapter.”