Katy Maddux: Taking a Stand as a Presidential Scholar
Raised and educated at GSU to take a stand
Like her mother, Katy Maddux will graduate from GSU with a passion for helping the powerless
When Presidential Scholar Katy Maddux receives her Georgia State University diploma on May 6, she will come full circle from when her mother Carole (B.I.S., 1991) dropped her off as an infant at the GSU child development center on her way to class.
Her Honors diploma is the latest evidence of the strong connection between the look-alike mother and daughter. Even stronger is their mission to meet the critical needs of less fortunate people – for health care, hope and a sense of belonging.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon in Woodruff Park, a focal point for generations of GSU students, they took part in a weekly Bible study and healing service in the park for people who are homeless and disadvantaged.
Carole Maddux – a deacon in the Episcopal Church – helped lead the event. Katy Maddux joined her. During the past four years, the park has become a familiar place for the two to meet up and catch up.
At Woodruff Park, Carole Maddux is in the shadows of the university that helped shape her as a caregiver to Katy and provider of health care and spiritual guidance for those who would otherwise go without.
From the same vantage point, Katy Maddux can see that her similar worldview was shaped first in her mother’s shadow and then by a far different campus. “Georgia State has changed so much in 20 years that it’s like she went to a totally different school,” she said.
Sometimes GSU President Mark P. Becker jokes that the campus offers everything but agriculture. Carole Maddux, though, used transfer credits from agriculture classes toward an interdisciplinary degree at GSU in business communications – with a minor in agriculture.
She worked full-time during her seven years as an undergraduate, including in the University Library. She got married and had Katy.
“I appreciated the flexibility that Georgia State gave me,” Carole Maddux said. “I took one quarter off after she was born, and then only one class for another quarter. But I knew that when I took photography classes, and I had to spend a lot of time in the dark room, there were too many chemicals to take her in there.
“I knew I could not afford an expensive day care, and after I toured the child development center, I was so impressed with the quality of care, lactation rooms, everything. Without that, I might have found another way to graduate, but it would have been when my children got older.”
Maddux’s other GSU courses in marketing, writing and nonverbal communication helped her help others. This was important to her because her brother had been chronically ill with a kidney disease. Insurance through the military paid for his transplant, but his college refused to let him live in a dorm, citing medical liability. When he graduated, he felt limited to government jobs to secure his health insurance.
“I could see how people die without health care,” Carole Maddux said. “The years I was at Georgia State, there was no infirmary and I had no insurance. I used Grady Hospital, and thank God I didn’t have a chronic illness. It’s an experience that I can’t forget.”
Carole went into the healthcare management, then to home hospice care, and then to her current leadership of the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Pickens County, where her parents were among 400 volunteers.
Her daughter joined her along the way. At hospice, Katy and her Girl Scout troop made pillows and sang songs to earn badges. At Good Samaritan, Katy served as a Spanish interpreter and childcare provider.
Those qualities of caring had grown in her from an early age. “When anyone fell down on the playground, she ran over to see if they needed a Band-Aid,” Carole Maddux said. “She’s always had a really strong internal sense of justice and confidence. When she was ready to walk, she didn’t take steps in front of everyone and fall down. She walked all the way across the room. I’ve been amazed at her my whole life.”
At Centennial High School in Roswell, Katy Maddux began to make her own stand.
“Before my 10th grade year, I had never been much of a risk taker at all,” she wrote in her Presidential Scholarship application essay. “I was always the kid who was too shy and too easily intimidated to try new things. Whenever my friends were harassed for being gay or lesbian, I held my tongue. I followed the crowd and just tried to keep myself from being trampled. I was sensitive to social injustice… but I simply wasn’t doing anything about it.
“I decided that I was just as capable of making change in the world as anyone else. But more important, I decided to act on it.”
She and a friend campaigned to start the Gay Straight Alliance. “I had to purposely toughen my own skin against the opposition we received from both students and the administration,” she wrote. “At least half of the posters we put up on the walls ended up crudely vandalized or ripped apart and thrown away.
“I learned that a large part of who you are depends on the risks you decide to take, because good grades and a passive demeanor are just not enough. That experienced changed the entire way I perceive the world. I became someone who was not just trying to get by. I became a voice in my community [and] I will continue to stand up for others even in the face of opposition.”
Katy Maddux turned down scholarship offers at other colleges to accept the prestigious Presidential Scholarship and enroll at her mother’s alma mater. The newly opened University Commons welcomed her, signaling a big departure from the commuter campus her mother knew. She took classes, though, from two of the same professors who taught her mom: folklore expert John A. Burrison and David Bottoms, the Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters.
At GSU, Katy Maddux has turned her efforts toward protesting the death penalty and issues with the homeless. At Woodruff Park, she attends the services of Church of the Common Ground, led by her mother and priest Mary Wetzel (M. Ed., 1981).
From there, sometimes the Maddux women will walk from Woodruff Park to Grady Memorial Hospital to see street people who are receiving treatment. Katy Maddux has come to see that complex factors – including poverty, drug addiction and lack of opportunity through education – can lead to homelessness. She realizes that each face is that of someone’s son or daughter.
“When I first came to the park I was 16, I clutched my purse,” she recalled. “I didn’t know people. Some are not nice. Some are fantastic and interesting. When I began to see them more as people, I began to have more empathy.”
After graduation, Katy Maddux will take a break from higher education for a year to decide what’s next. She may pursue public interest law or teaching. “I feel like it’s important that because I have received a valuable education here, now I have to go out and do something good for other people,” she said.
Commencement: A family looks back and looks forward
Commencement in the Georgia Dome is a big step up from the GSU Sports Arena, where Carole Maddux graduated in 1991. The Dome is now home field for the Panthers football team, where Carole and husband, Delane Maddux, are season football ticket holders.
“I feel loyalty to Georgia State because I was there forever,” Carole Maddux said. “I felt like we were in it together. They never gave up on me. I have fond feelings for that, and I’ve been a season ticket holder for football for every single season. Football games and church – I don’t let anything interfere with those.”
Katy Maddux will receive an Honors diploma in English with a minor in sociology. The Dome is only a few blocks from the state Capitol, where at the beginning of Katy’s senior year, she and her mother gathered to protest the execution of Troy Davis.
The philosophy that life is sacred drives both mother and daughter to work for change in society on behalf of those who have little or no power.
“Katy exemplifies what GSU looks for in a Presidential Scholar,” said Nancy Mansfield, J. Mack Robinson College of Business Professor who recruits and mentors high-achieving students and teaches Honors seminars in business law.
“When we invest in our top scholars, we expect a return on our investment: a student who will give back to the greater community. Following her mother’s example and leadership at the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center, Katy has leveraged the opportunities at GSU to make a difference in the lives of others and to work for social justice.”
—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424