Lydia Dorman ’82 to Speak at Commencement

Lydia Dorman ’82 will speak at this year’s commencement. Read more about her life and career below. 


Washington, D.C.


Bachelor of Arts in Telecommunications with minor in Business, graduated Magna Cum Laude
Masters of Arts in Communications, Western Kentucky University

Lydia DormanFrom Washington, D.C. to Wesleyan? How did that happen?

I was convinced I was destined for a career in TV after attending a special Girl Scout event on broadcasting careers in Los Angeles.  Having no clue what I wanted to do in TV, I began to look at colleges that had a broadcasting curriculum.  A Kentucky Wesleyan recruiter at a high school career fair in my hometown saw me meandering through rows of schools and stopped to ask me my college interest.

It was serendipity that Wesleyan had a radio/TV major at that time and that the recruiter showed a genuine interest in me.  Shortly after that encounter, I received an invitation to visit the school.  Dragging my best friend, we braved the flight on a six-seater turbo-prop. We were greeted by about five feet of snow upon arrival.  I instantly fell in love with the campus and with teachers who demonstrated passion for teaching.  The campus broadcasting studios brought life to the profession that seemed to be my calling, and I felt I could flourish in an environment with small class sizes.

I was accepted to two large universities and to Wesleyan.  The personalized admissions process, follow-up by the broadcasting professor and my desire to move from a big city to a small supportive community convinced me Kentucky Wesleyan was the right choice. 

Campus activities:

Oak & Ivy
Kappa Delta sorority
Pacesetter (pom pom girl during basketball games)
Camerawoman for all home basketball games

Involvement after graduation:

I have served on the Board of Trustees and on the Alumni Board.

How did Wesleyan shape you?

In reflection, although I had planned to be in broadcasting (always behind the scenes), when I entered Wesleyan, I was a very sheltered and introverted recluse, leaving my one friend behind in D.C. I worried about finding deep friendships.  I left Wesleyan a very confident, courageous, adventurous, curious, passionate, well-educated leader.  Wesleyan pushed me beyond boundaries I even knew existed or originally felt comfortable pursuing.  Today I still have strong life-long ties to Owensboro with two BFFs (best female friends). Wesleyan is guaranteed to give you more than you can give – that’s an ROI any business wants!

TOWN-148What faculty members influenced you?  

  • Bob Darrell taught me the art of storytelling in short, brief, grammatically correct sentence structure (foundational to my love of writing and training).
  • Professor of Radio/TV Gary Drum.
  • Dean of Students Wilfred Gorrell tracked me down after I had completed my studies. I had planned to work full time at Owensboro National Bank, and he told me I was going to graduate school at Western Kentucky University. When I tried to decline nicely, he would not take “no” for an answer. I was touched and extremely grateful that he had negotiated a student teaching position at Western for me so I could earn my graduate degree. I may have missed my chance to see the world had I not accepted his kind and generous offer! I will always be indebted to him.

Tell us about your career path.

While earning my MA degree at Western, I was an intern on the Magic Kingdom College Program at Walt Disney World.  As I was an “older” intern, I actually worked in an office at Disney, and I was required to write two “thesis” papers to earn graduate credits. Considering my undergraduate degree and current major, I wrote a paper on Disney’s internal communication machine (imagine communicating to 30,000 people working in locations spread over 27,000 acres 365 days, 24/7) and the training department. 

I completed my graduate degree and was asked to return to Disney, but as an hourly worker in the same department where I had worked previously.  I was underwhelmed but confident I would get a big break, and I got that break about three months after returning.  A position opened up in the internal communications department, called “Cast Communications,” and I was selected by the manager who had been the “star” of one of my university “thesis” papers.  That department is one of several that make up Disney University.  From Cast Communications, I moved to Casting (hiring) and then to several other Human Resource departments, finally ending a fabulous eight-year stint as an HR professional of the parent company, The Walt Disney Company. I was headhunted to join Toyota Motors Manufacturing in Georgetown and gladly returned to my adopted state of Kentucky. After 3 ½ years, I was once again headhunted to join The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Ga.  On April 3, I celebrated 21 amazing years at Coca-Cola. 

Tell us about the places you have lived.

How do you stay at one company and still love it after 21 years?  You keep moving, and you never get bored.  As a career expat with Coca-Cola, every successive move is like moving to a new company/different city – new team, new market challenges, new culture, food, housing, language (pictures are truly worth a 1000 words!) and new friends: 

  • Lived in London – responsible* for employees in U.K., Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands.
  • Lived in Denmark – responsible for employees in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
  • Lived in Canada – responsible for employees coast to coast (St. John to Vancouver).
  • Live in Japan today – 100% responsible for employees in Japan and 30% responsible for employees across Asia-Pacific territory including China, India, South Pacific, Southeast Asia countries such as Singapore.
  • I have lived and worked at Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., responsible for corporate functions such as finance, IT and public affairs and communications.

*Developing and/or deploying human resources programs (e.g., hiring, developing, rewarding and separating), processes and policies.

I have been in Japan since November 2010, so I was here through the tragic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.  It has been both challenging and rewarding.  My Japanese is ma ma (so-so), and communication is sometimes strained. But when there is a connection, you recognize a strong desire and dedication to making a change or delivering a commitment. 

Survival as a foreigner working as a leader in a company means learning and respecting the business traditions and expected etiquette handed down over generations; where to sit at a meeting or in a taxi, the exchange of business cards or even the angle of bowing. There is an art and science to every move to ensure a business transaction is brought to completion.  It takes time. When you are ready to “play” in Japan, you can’t ask for a better “playground.”  The food, history, diverse cities, nature, coastline and the knowledge that you can walk the streets at 10 p.m. in the middle of Tokyo without concern makes this one of the best livable cities, especially for families.  

Opportunities still exist for women to take on more leadership roles within the workplace and for men to pick up more home chores and family raising, but the country is rapidly changing for the better, especially with demands by Millennial talent in the workplace.  It is a fascinating time to live and work in Tokyo. Momentum is rising to deliver the best games ever as we inch towards the 2020 Olympic Games. 

I live on the top floor (43rd) of a condominium that rocks like crazy when we have an earthquake (which clearly I did not research well before moving in)!  I have a wonderful view of Tokyo Bay. Earthquakes are actually a rarity. Consider coming to visit, an open invitation!

Pictures from iPad as of 081513 1864How do you relax?

  • Traveling
  • Dancing
  • Reading
  • Decorating
  • Being the best aunt to Omar, Iman, Leah and Lauren

What places in the world have you particularly enjoyed visiting?

I could never have predicted or planned that I would be blessed with the varied experiences that have shaped me to enjoy endless curiosity and a surprising sense of adventure.  

  • Toured the inside of a Pyramid in Egypt.
  • Experienced the view at the top of the tallest building in the world in Dubai.
  • Rode a dog sled across the top of Norway and saw the Northern Lights.
  • Rode a camel in Morocco.
  • Earned a certification in sizing diamonds and visited Nelson Mandela’s cell in South Africa.
  • Enjoyed a private tour of Buckingham Palace.
  • Rode a donkey in Santorini, Greece.
  • Cried at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima.
  • Watched the sun rise and sun set at the Taj Mahal.
  • Entered the “hidden” tunnels in Vietnam.
  • Carried the Olympic Torch during the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games (and will do so again at the Rio Olympic Games in May).

Having traveled so extensively, everyone asks, “What is your favorite city?” I always respond, “The one I am currently visiting.” I find joy, excitement and intrigue in every culture I experience.  I am humbled and enriched by every encounter in communities across the globe. I recently spent 17 days in India on business, and during the stay our team traveled to a very rural village where the greatest celebration for the children was indoor toilets at their school, along with running water to wash their hands. For girls, having a toilet at school means the difference between having full-term education (through high school) or not.  Sometimes I wonder if we really acknowledge how privileged we are to live in a developed country.    

Tell us about a mentor and how this person influenced you.

I have had no better mentor than my mother, Hattie, who retired from an extraordinary career with the federal government. She worked for the Internal Revenue Service, two White Houses – Carter and Clinton administrations – and rose to the senior executive level in the Small Business Administration (nearly unheard of at the time for an African American woman).  After leaving the government, she finally completed her college degree and then launched a very successful training company.  She even started an investment group of women to learn about stocks, bonds and money markets to increase personal wealth.  Mom has been my travel buddy for many years, including trips to Paris, Fiji, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Greece, Spain and this past Christmas/New Year’s, a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands (at the age of 82)!  Mom has visited me in every country in which I have lived, including a three-month stint in Tokyo. She has coached me, dried my tears, held my hand, celebrated my wins, given me advice, walked me through my options and provided unconditional love and prayers throughout my professional career. Mom is my “north star.”

IMG_1956Favorite book on business:

“Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value” by Bill George.

Why?  I am shaped by my upbringing, friends, family, educational opportunities, religious beliefs, work experiences, co-workers and travel . . .  I am “me” . . .  and it is always better to bring “me” into the workplace and to the home – you and I can make “me” better, but not different.  This “me” makes me authentic. 

I now spend most of my time coaching senior leaders to be genuine, stay true to their values and be present all day, every day, with their “me.” I have found over the years that employees (and most likely students) will relate to, attach, support and sometimes challenge authentic leaders – all for a strong desire to win or be the best. This certainly leads to growth of companies (and people). 

Favorite Movie:

I am a romantic at heart . . .  love boy meets girl; they fall in love; live happily ever after . . .  so my all-time favorite films, both starring Richard Gere are “Pretty Woman” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Share a “commercial” on your commencement address!

Here’s my 20-second commercial on my upcoming 20-minute commencement speech:

It is sure to engage, delight and hopefully inspire you.  Expect it to be memorable . . . full of hints, tips and tricks on “getting on with it” – whatever “it” may be.   And trust me, there are a lifetime of “its” to come.

See you on the 30th!

Can you believe I . . . ?

  • Worked at Walmart, Kmart, Owensboro National Bank as a teller and Just Pants in the mall.
  • Was the camerawoman at the cable station for the nightly news. I also cleaned the weather board, and I hated when we had wicked weather!
  • Worked at the radio station – a nightmare – could never get the “tapes on the reel” correctly!
  • Worked the camera for the cable station for two Owensboro Christmas parades.
  • Was Miss Black Expo in Owensboro.

Did you know?

Nisshin City, in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, is Owensboro, Kentucky’s sister city!!!  I have visited the city. It is as beautiful as Owensboro!  Perhaps it has always been my destiny to go from one beloved city to another – 6700 miles apart!

Thank you, Lydia. We have enjoyed a quick trip around the world with you and look forward to being engaged, delighted and inspired on the 30th!