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August 23, 2013

The Woods welcomes Class of 2017

Daughter of school president among freshmen

St. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS — As Dottie King welcomed the Class of 2017 to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on Thursday, she shared a special bond with parents in the audience.

“I have the unique opportunity to be one of you today,” she told parents as she welcomed them, and about 100 first-year students, to the college.

Her own daughter, Danielle, a 2013 Northview High School graduate, is an incoming Woods freshman this fall and will live on campus.

“I’m sure you’re full of many emotions today, too,” King said. “I want to give you some reassurance; together with your daughter, you have chosen a special, caring place.”

While students will grow and change over the next four years, “They will not lose the values that you spent 18 years instilling,” King said as she spoke at O’Shaughnessy Hall.

She told the nearly 100 first-year students — freshmen, international and transfer — “We are so excited to be part of your journey. … We will change you, and the Woods will be forever changed by your presence.”

She encouraged students to get involved in activities and to take advantage of the resources the college offers.

In an interview, she said she had a lot of mixed feelings, including pride that her daughter chose the Woods, but also “the normal parent feelings of my child leaving home.”

Danielle King said she chose the college because “it has always seemed like family to me. … Everyone knows you personally and everyone cares. They want you to get through, and everyone is pulling for you.”

Asked if there’s any extra pressure being the president’s daughter, she believes she’ll be fine academically. But in other ways, “I can’t mess up as much,” she said.

While she’s not too far from home, and her mom will be close by each day, it’s still an emotional time, she said. She has four brothers and one sister, and it’s hard to say good-bye.

She decided to live on campus to gain some independence.

“Coming from a big family, it’s so easy to lean on each other all the time, which is an amazing thing that I thank God for every day,” Danielle King said. “But at this point, I need to find some independence and learn to be an adult.”

The first-year students come from eight states, including Alaska, and four other countries — China, South Korea, Northern Ireland and Taiwan.

Another first-year student is Dagny Gargas of Indianapolis. Her mom and two older sisters attended the Woods.

“I think I felt a little more at home at the Woods,” Gargas said. She has spent much time there visiting her sisters.

Another private college was her first choice, but when some of her college credits wouldn’t transfer, she chose the Woods, which would accept the credits. She was home-schooled through high school but also took several college courses.

She is majoring in biology and psychology and aspires to be a physician.

Starting college “is exciting and terrifying at the same time, and a bit overwhelming, but I can do it,” Gargas said.

During her welcome speech, King told a story about how her son, Michael, decided to go to Ball State University rather than a closer college.

As a mother, she believed the university was too big and too far away, but her son was excited — so she supported him.

A few days after he arrived at Ball State, he called home and told his mom, “I don’t know if I can do this,” she recalled.

While a part of her wanted him to come back home, she told him, “You can do this.”

In a few days, it got easier, her son eventually graduated and is now in graduate school.

King told parents they may receive similar calls from anxious daughters, and she encouraged parents to offer support, reassurance and encouragement.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or


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