City College graduate advocates for childhood literacy, mental health

Kelley Westley’s passion for helping others translates into her leadership role, future goals


Kelley Westley decorates her graduation cap at an event held outside the City College bookstore, May 16, 2023. Photo by Nathaly Alvizures/City Times Media

Sean Monney, Multimedia Journalist

Kelley Westley recalled coming home from school as a child and not being able to turn to her parents for help with homework. She stayed late at school to get the help she needed.

Westley was later put into special education classes in high school because she had a learning disability.

Today, Westley is graduating from San Diego City College with a degree in early childhood education. 

A first-generation graduate, Westley, 56, admitted her journey to graduation was not a direct path.

But Westley has known her whole life she wanted to help people. 

“I struggle with English and literacy,” Westley said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about literacy and reading and kids because I was that child.” 

Westley said literacy is fundamental to early education and that education carries over from school into the family household.  

“I want parents to be able to help their children as well as educate themselves,” she said. 

With her degree, Westley plans to continue the life-long volunteer work in her community with groups like Head Start that help children in underserved communities. 

Westley was also heavily involved in the City chapter of Active Minds, serving as vice president of the club dedicated to destigmatizing and changing the conversation around mental health.

Active Minds is a nationwide organization founded in 2003 and the City chapter was started in 2018.

“She’s just got a really natural way of connecting with people and making them feel comfortable, but also a really big passion for mental health,” Active Minds adviser and mental health counselor Nadia Sayeh said. 

Sayeh, who collaborated closely with Westley on Active Minds, said Westley made sure people’s voices were heard and students felt welcome and comfortable talking about mental health.

“We help advocate and try to break this stigma of mental health,” Westley said, “and let people know we’ve all been through something. It’s okay. It’s a big family and we can talk and network.”

Active Minds organized suicide prevention trainings and mental health education sessions, which Westley helped plan, promote and execute.

“She led these affirmation activities at some of the events that combined positive self-talk with self-care with art,” Sayeh said. “And students who would pop by at the events really did kind of gravitate towards that.”

At an event organized for graduates to decorate their caps on May 16, Westley discussed her higher educational journey while designing her cap with slogans like “Won’t He do it!”

According to Westley, it all started when her daughter graduated from high school in 2005 and went on to Grossmont College. 

“So I said I was ready to start my education,” Westley said.

Since high school, Westley knew she had a learning disability but said she was never told exactly what it was. 

It wasn’t until she got to City and asked to be tested that she learned she had dysgraphia, and knowing this has helped her navigate college. Dysgraphia is a neurological condition that makes writing difficult and strenuous. 

Not only did City help Westley learn about why she struggled to write, but her professors also helped her build confidence. 

She credited English professor Tucker Grimshaw for his help in encouraging her not to be afraid to fail.

“Halfway through the semester we would go in groups, and people wanted to come in my group because I knew everything because I had it in here,” Westley said, pointing at her head. “I just needed that confidence to bring it out.”

Westley aced that English class and got all the credits she needed to walk at the commencement ceremony, where she will be wearing her cap that reads “Never too late.”