When Charlottesville, Va. native Clare Yordy was looking at colleges, she knew she wanted an experience that was different from her high school years.

There was a lot she liked about Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University—it was a few hours from home, its proximity to Washington, D.C.—but what really sold Yordy was the Honors College.

Clare Yordy

“I liked the idea of being in a smaller community while still being at a large university,” she said.

Yordy also appreciated the flexibility the Honors College provided, and she was able to keep progressing toward degree completion as she experimented with several majors: theater (“I really enjoy being creative.”), government and international politics (“In the aftermath of 2016, I felt the need to switch.”), and finally human development and family science, from which she is graduating this month with a bachelor of arts degree.

Yordy has always enjoyed working with children and families and plans a career along those lines. She has worked with children throughout her time at Mason.

For most of her life, Yordy has been involved with Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit that provides free summer camps for children impacted by a parent’s cancer. After losing her mother as a young child, Yordy said she attended these summer camps for 10 years and has wonderful memories of those trips.

“It was always a week of total fun,” she said.

“The campers and counselors there are basically a second family to me,” Yordy noted. “Camp Kesem gave me a place where I wasn’t alone and where I could just have fun.”

this photo shows a girl at George Mason University's Camp Kesem event getting a bunch of goop poured on her head
The camps are run by college students with more than 100 chapters across the country. Upon arriving at Mason, Yordy worked to start a chapter there, which she directed for two years and continues to be involved in. She said the Mason chapter has run a camp each summer for 50 children.

But getting Camp Kesem to Mason was no easy feat: There was a voting competition in which Mason was up against multiple other schools fighting for a spot to host the camp, Yordy said. Yordy got the word out about the competition by going into lecture halls and urging classrooms of hundreds of students to vote. She also started a Facebook campaign that was shared around the community. Ultimately, Mason secured a spot, along with eight other schools, which increased Camp Kesem’s outreach to more than 5 million affected children.

“The Mason community was incredibly helpful during the voting campaign,” Yordy said. “I needed help getting votes, and both students and faculty helped spread the word and get enough votes for a camp. The determination and all-around helpfulness of the Mason community also made me realize that GMU is the perfect place for a Camp Kesem.”

this photo shows a female participant at Camp Kesem at George Mason University in August 2019
“It is really important for those campers to have the chance to just be kids for a week,” she added.

Yordy said it was the “constants” that helped her make the most of her time at GMU, even during the pandemic. Those constants are the Camp Kesem chapter, the Honors College and her mentor, School of Business Professor Lisa Gring-Pemble.

Yordy first worked with Gring-Pemble in HNRS 110 Principles of Research and Inquiry in the first semester of her freshman year. It was Gring-Pemble who urged Yordy to apply for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research, where she continued her research.

Clare Yordy has been researching the portrayal of bisexual people in the media.

Yordy was one of the Mason students selected to attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in 2017, where she presented her paper on how bisexuality is portrayed in film and television. She also served as a research assistant to Gring-Pemble.

“Clare is the epitome of a scholar at her finest,” said Gring-Pemble. “She is inquisitive, creative, diligent and accomplished. She has a brilliant future ahead, and it has been a privilege to share part of her academic journey.”

As Commencement neared, Yordy said she was grateful for all the opportunities Mason has provided. She posed for photos in her cap and gown and planned a virtual party in an effort to “make graduation as normal as possible” during the pandemic.

“This year has been all about flexibility,” Yordy said.

This story has been adapted from two articles appearing here and here on the George Mason University website.


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