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Chester County Press

Oxford Area High School’s newest Distinguished Alumni award recipients encourage students to follow their dreams

10/13/2022 12:03AM ● By Steven Hoffman

Dr. Allison Henry Longenberger and Kyara Gray Uqdah were recognized as Oxford Area High School Distinguished Alumni during an assembly at the school on Sept. 23.

Distinguished Alumni awards were first presented in 2006 and continued through 2019. After a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the program resumed this year. Students get to see examples of Oxford High School graduates who have gone on to enjoy successful careers, and hear some of their personal experiences that relate to their years at Oxford. 

“They took what they learned here in Oxford Area School District and applied it in the outside world. That’s what we want from all of you,” Oxford Area School District superintendent David Woods told the student assembly.

Dr. Allison Henry Longenberger, a member of the class of 1995, graduated from the University of Scranton in 2000 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy. She went on to earn a Ph.D in Epidemiology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009. Her distinguished career includes the Excellence in Epidemiology and Leadership Award from the Bureau of Epidemiology in 2018. She worked within the Bureau of Epidemiology in the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 2012 to 2020. She has served as the primary supervisor for Epidemic Intelligence Service officers assigned to the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 2019 to present. During her time at the health department, she has authored and co-authored a dozen peer-reviewed journals and has presented at several national conferences.

In her comments to the students Longenberger focused on the fact that it is okay to have more than one career and to change paths. 

“Give yourself permission to follow your passion,” Longenberger said. 

When Longenberger graduated, her commencement speech quoted “The Bridge” by Shel Silverstein, including the line, “This bridge will only take you halfway there. The final steps you will have to take alone.”

“At the time I felt I was giving sage advice,” Longenberger said. “I have learned through the years that none of my successes were ever accomplished alone. I have had teachers, mentors, colleagues, coworkers and family pushing me to become the best I could be. At Oxford, I had many teachers who believed in me and fostered my strengths but also challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. Since then there have been others along the way.” 

After studying to be a physical therapist and practicing in that career, the switch to epidemiology and the return to school at age 28 was a change to follow her passion. That change found her playing an important role in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

“I had previously led or co-led several high profile outbreak investigations, but the Covid-19 pandemic tested me personally and professionally. My responsibilities were vast and immense but I had an entire room of colleagues in the trenches with me. I’m proud of what we accomplished together. We might not have been prepared by the magnitude of the pandemic, but as public health professionals we were ready to do whatever it took to save lives,” Longenberger said. 

“I would not have had the opportunity to be part of the department of health team if I hadn’t given myself permission to follow my passion,” she said. “We don’t always know what we want to do. At 18 years old, it’s ok to give yourself permission to make changes and follow your passion. It is never too late.”

Kyara Gray Uqdah, a member of Oxford’s class of 2007, graduated from Lafayette College in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a certificate in Finance. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad through Goldsmiths College in London. She is the co-founder and president of Charm City Buyers in Baltimore, Maryland, which specializes in buying and restoring homes. She is also the vice president of operations and founder of KKU Estate Investors. 

Coming back to the high school brought Kyara Gray Uqdah back to her own time as a student in 2006 when she was selected to introduce distinguished alumni award winner Viscount Berky Nelson.

“It’s interesting to be on the other side,” she said. “It’s exciting to be here and be recognized as a distinguished alumni. It was a great honor at the time to even introduce someone. Gray Uqdah included some history in her remarks beginning with the town of Hinsonville, now a part of the Lincoln University region. Members of her family were among the founders of the town in 1829. Since then her family has been active members of the Oxford community. 

“It really helped build a foundation of what’s in Oxford today,” she said. “My passion for building community and connecting with folks and really being able to create something special comes from the history of growing up hearing all of the great stories of the people who walked these halls before me – from knowing that if they could prosper and build a legacy, so could I.”

At Oxford Area High School, she played basketball and ran track. “All the coaches and teachers made sure I never forgot my potential or at least let me do my own thing, within reason,” she explained. 

Like Longenberger, her message to the students included the importance of following your passion.

“To you, I say remember that the things you say, that you think and do, matter. That thing that keeps you up at night or wakes you up in the morning, those hopes and dreams, they actually come true—even for those of us who come from a small town in Pennsylvania,” Gray Uqdah said.