Our Stories

A Lifelong Stroke of Luck

Jan Taborsky's great-grandfather wanted to be a businessman, but communist Czechoslovakia didn't see eye to eye with capitalists. His upholstery business landed him in prison.

Taborsky '10 had a better go of it. The economics major recently landed one of the most sought-after business scholarships in America, funded by the Kemper Scholarship Program. Instead of a prison sentence, he will receive financial support, paid internships and ongoing mentoring as he begins his career.

Born two years before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Taborsky grew up in the Czech Republic, a country of medieval villages, hillside castles and pulsing cities. "We weren't rich or anything, but my family life was a perfect life," says Taborsky.

His path was shaped by a succession of coincidences and mentors. His father's boss -- connected to Rotary International -- asked if the teenager might like to go to America. "I had always wanted to go to there," Taborsky says. "I read about it as a place of abundance and freedom, like a dream place." After settling in at Oregon's Sprague High School, he found that Americans and Czechs are surprisingly alike in outlook and humor.

Through Rotary, the high schooler met Willamette Dean Bob Hawkinson, who helped open doors at Willamette. College seemed unaffordable, but Taborsky landed several scholarships and was taken in by a sponsor family, Randy Cook JD '88 and Tracy Gregg, both lawyers and Rotarians.

"I can't imagine a better match than this school," Taborsky says. "I like the small environment and feel like there are a lot of smart students. The teachers are open and friendly; I feel like I'm learning from the best."

He hopes to use his education toward a career negotiating an exchange of goods and ideas between his country and the U.S. "The Czech Republic is on its way to economic modernization, but many things are still being done in old-fashioned and non-progressive ways," he says.

Taborsky also has a dream of owning an outdoor sports business some day, and when he wasn't in the classroom or working at the Institutional Research Office this year, he was scaling mountain peaks, rock climbing, snowboarding and running. He joined Willamette's Outdoor Club, played intramural soccer, and helped found Willamette's first Bicycle Club, whose members rode the hilly countryside after classes and raced on weekends. "Sports is the balancing element in my life," Taborsky says. "Sports activities help me to overcome my special life challenge -- diabetes."

Taborsky also finds time to volunteer, finding resonance in Willamette's motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born. He has given presentations about the Czech Republic to elementary, middle and high schools; rung the Christmas bell for Salvation Army; written for Willamette's World News magazine; and cleared brush along hiking trails in the Coast range. "We are not living our lives alone in this world. Even young people like myself have an amazing power to affect the communities we live in."

Taborsky feels lucky. He is all too aware of how his family, host family, education and scholarships have "changed the line of my life" and opened possibilities. "I realize the responsibilities that come with these opportunities," he says. "I'm ready to give back."

For information on this scholarship and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the second floor of the University Center.