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Strength of purpose

Vivian Clarke (BSBA '24)

On her 10th birthday, Vivian Clarke’s father (BSBA ’24) gave her a domain name as a gift.

She’d wake up before school and before her parents, log on to WordPress and make websites for the business ideas constantly brewing in her head.

“Clearly I was not a business owner at 10, but it was just very empowering to see that my father was willing to support me in that journey,” says Clarke. “He’s very entrepreneurial. Even when I was in elementary school, he would tell me about his own business ideas and get my feedback. He’s a graphic designer, and I would pull up a chair and sit and watch him do his designs.

“He has always treated me like I was capable of doing those kinds of things. Well, doing anything really. He still buys my domain names.”

For Clarke, being able to “do anything” included wanting to go to college. She faced financial barriers. Her parents had not attended college and didn’t pressure her to go. They believed in her but left the decision entirely up to her.

So she pushed herself. Right away, she was glad she did.

“As a first-generation student, it feels very rewarding and exciting that I did it,” says Clarke. “And it was something I was able to do for myself.”

When she saw an opportunity, she took it. She had many interests to pursue, so she did.

Clarke graduated in May 2024 from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, more than a decade after that birthday gift. She had earned a full ride through the B. Robert Williamson, Jr. Distinguished Scholarship and assured admission to the Business School. She earned two minors — public policy and American Indian and Indigenous studies. She completed six internships mirroring her academic and personal interests, took a Global Immersion Elective (GIE) in Alaska, spent a semester abroad in Hungary and landed a job as an associate with the Boston Consulting Group in Washington, D.C.

Vivian Clarke

“The first day I set foot on campus I told myself that I was going to take every opportunity I can get. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to grow. I wanted to make it worthwhile,” she says. “And I think that’s a really big reason why I’ve done so much — just because, why not?”

It wasn’t as easy as Clarke makes it sound.

Less than a year before she left home in Litchfield Park, Arizona, for the Business School, she considered postponing college. When she was 17, her mom died while Clarke was spending Thanksgiving with her dad. Her parents divorced when she was 7, and she lived predominantly lived with her mom and saw her dad once a week and every other weekend.

She later learned that her mom, who had long struggled with addiction, died of a fentanyl overdose.

“Losing someone to a drug overdose is very stigmatized. There are still people in my life who don’t know how my mom died,” she says. “For a while I was telling people she had a heart attack, because it was hard for me to admit that’s how I lost my mother.”

Clarke found a way to cope at Carolina, founding the club Actively Moving Forward for students experiencing different forms of grief to support each other. She completed a nine-month internship as a youth engagement consultant with the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, leading prevention programs for adolescents and speaking at SAMHSA’s annual Prevention Day conference.

During her junior year she completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Labor focused on recovery from opioid abuse and workforce reentry for those coping with substance-use disorders. She plans to continue working on substance-use awareness at Boston Consulting Group.

“I love business, and when my mom passed away it opened my eyes to using business as a way to make tangible impacts on people’s lives,” she says. “It helped me to channel the pain into maybe preventing even one more child from going through the same thing that I went through. Fentanyl will always be a problem and drug overdoses will always be a problem, but people are doing things to change that.”

At the Business School, Clarke found ways to explore her interests and seamlessly combine them.

She discovered a love for consulting, joined student consultancy group 180 Degrees Consulting and the Scale & Coin Business Society, and participated in STAR (Student Teams Achieving Results), working on a project for a consumer packaged goods client.

Clarke, who has Osage Nation ancestry on her mother’s side, received a scholarship for the Alaska GIE, where she met with native Alaskan businesses and explored how Native cultures interact with their environment.

Vivian Clarke

Curious about the complex intersections between business and government, Clarke followed up her U.S. Department of Labor internship by interning for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Hungary, teaching high-school students about American culture. She also spent that semester studying at Corvinus University of Budapest, her first time traveling outside of the U.S.

“The reason I chose Hungary is because it was so unfamiliar to me. I wanted to pick something that was out of my comfort zone,” says Clarke. “I wanted to pick somewhere that would force myself to be more uncomfortable.”

That brave approach guided her time at the Business School, and it has prepared her for life after.

“My time at UNC Kenan-Flagler has had a major impact on how I view the world and my willingness to do things that I’ve never done before or thought I could do,” she says. “Going to college and being in the Business School completely changed the trajectory of my life in the very best ways possible.”