The OHS Alumni Association recently inducted 3 Distinguished Alumni Award winners for 2021. These particular OHS graduates were selected based on their notable professional, volunteerism, and human rights achievements. They each have compelling life stories that are incredibly inspiring and they are generous in the heartfelt credit they give to the outstanding education and support they received during their years at OHS.
James Mead graduated from Olympia High School in 1960 and spent most of his career at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where he serves as Curator Emeritus of Marine Mammals. After graduating from OHS, Jim won a scholarship to Yale University where he graduated in 1965 with a degree in biology and geology. He was under a fellowship to attend the University of Texas, Austin where he earned his master’s degree in geology in 1968. Then in 1972 Jim Mead earned his doctorate degree in evolutionary biology from the University of Chicago. He was immediately hired in 1972 as Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian –where he has been almost 50 years to date including his emeritus service. Jim has written three books, 15 chapters and ten articles on mammals. He has served in elected positions on many professional organizations. In 2015 Jim received the Kenneth Norris Award for lifetime achievement for his work in marine mammalogy. He has served as president of many national societies for marine mammalogy. Jim’s specific research on whales and dolphins has helped people around the world better understand these very intelligent creatures of the world’s waters. He currently is working on an illustrated multi-volume dictionary of dolphin skull characteristics that will provide a worldwide standard for describing dolphins using common scientific terms. The Smithsonian lists three pages of scientific publications that he wrote or co-wrote including a children’s book on whales.
Ken Balsley graduated from Olympia High School in 1960. He has served our local community ever since. Ken served in the US Army from 1960 to 1965 and returned to the local area to begin a long commitment to local activities. Ken has served as president of the Lacey Rotary Club – and president of the international Rotary District 5020 (FIVE OH TWO OH). Ken also served as president of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce, Lacey Civic Committee and the Washington State Centennial Organizing Committee. He was founder of the Miss Thurston County Pageant, president of Lacey Music Arts & Dance Festival. He helped save the first Lacey City Hall which is now the Lacey Museum. Ken was president of the Lacey Historical Commission. He chaired the Lacey Parks Board and was named Lacey Historian of the year in 2015. Ken has a radio show on KGY radio, now in its 19th year. He was a reporter and editor for the Olympia News and the Lacey leader and has served as news editor and commentator at five local radio stations. Ken currently does a podcast show called “Coffee with Ken.” Ken attended Tumwater Grade School, Olympia High School and graduated from The Evergreen State College with a degree in journalism in 1976. Ken lives in Lacey with his wife Jan. They have five children, 14 great grand children and two great great grandchildren.
Rani (Clark) Hong is a 1991 graduate of Olympia High School. Rani was born in Southern India, but at the age of 7, she was sold to a child broker unbeknownst to her mother. She was traded by a trafficker who provided temporary housing which was really a front for the child slave market.
Between ages 7 and 8, Rani was severely beaten and abused by her human traffickers. As a result of these beatings and trauma, she appeared so physically and mentally ill that her broker discarded her into the streets as unfit for financial gain.
In 1979, Rani was given freedom through adoption to go to the United States. She was adopted by a family in Seattle who later moved to Olympia where she attended and graduated from Olympia High School.
Since 1999, Rani has volunteered many hours to nonprofit organizations in the United States and throughout the world to educate the public about human trafficking.
Between 2001 and 2003, Rani shared her story with Washington State Legislators, pleading with them to pass laws to prevent trafficking and provide aid to trafficking victims. Her efforts resulted in passage of four pieces of legislation, that has been followed by other states.
In 2003, Rani was invited to an international conference in Washington D.C., hosted by the State Department. This was the beginning for the organization known as the War Against Trafficking Alliance.” As a result of this meeting, Rani has appeared on many television broadcasts and interviews including the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, BBC, and EuroNews to name a few.
In 2017, Rani joined the press office of Holy See for concrete action against human trafficking.
In 2019, Rani was named Woman of the Year in India. Rani created the Freedom Seal, a certification for companies that fight against human trafficking.
Rani has spoken at the Vatican on the effects of human trafficking that international corporations and world leaders have agreed to fight. As a result, Pope Francis has endorsed Freedom Seal to help companies to talk about action against forced labor in their supply chains.
Rani’s work has inspired more than 22,000 CEOs in 125 countries that represent more than $6 trillion dollars in spending. She serves as an advisor to the United Nations for fighting human trafficking.
After 21 years of separation, Rani was reunited with her birth mother. Both Rani and her mother had thought that the other was dead because that’s what both had been told by those involved in her captivity.