Maryland lawmaker committed to public service


On Feb. 22, Lily Qi ’91 made a speech she once thought impossible. “I stood up on the House floor and said, ‘Today is the 30th anniversary of my coming to America.’” Her 140 colleagues in the Maryland House of Delegates stood up and cheered.

An immigrant from China, Qi came to the United States in 1989 to study communication at Manchester. Last November she won her first four-year term in the Maryland legislature where she is learning, she says, how democracy works. “Only in America can someone like me get elected.”

Qi first heard of Manchester in the late 1980s when she served as Allen Deeter’s interpreter in Shanghai. Deeter, professor emeritus of religion and philosophy, was then executive director of international studies for Brethren Colleges Abroad and he told Qi that he would sponsor her at Manchester “if you ever want to come and study.”

She did. Arriving in North Manchester in 1989, Qi moved into the small building nicknamed “China House,” where she lived with other Chinese students. BCA helped with tuition and living costs and Qi worked as a student custodian in the morning and washed dishes in the cafeteria after lunch and dinner. Trying to keep up with classes in English “was tremendously challenging” so she recorded lectures with a Walkman and replayed them when she studied.

Her husband, Phil Peng, a tenor who graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, joined Qi later that year. Faculty and locals welcomed them, invited them to their homes for holidays and meals, and helped with transportation when they needed it. “I really loved my experience at Manchester,” said Qi.

Qi recalls the kindness and hospitality of David ’47 and Becky Waas ’46c, Marcia Benjamin ’78, Paul ’35 and Hazel Keller, Bob ’52 and Dee Keller, Allen ’53 and Joan Deeter ’53, John Planer and Janina Traxler ’73, Jeanette ’50 and Robin Lahman, and Charles ’48 and Susie Klingler ’50c, among others.  “We have a lot of friends that we’re very, very fond of to this day.”

When she graduated from Manchester, Qi “already felt like I was a different person. It was transformative.” She had developed critical-thinking skills and an appreciation for different opinions. Manchester, she says, “is a safe haven for a lot of people to explore who they are and what kind of people they want to be.”

The strong sense of service and community that Qi cultivated at Manchester led to her work with multicultural students at American University in Washington, D.C., and for a Washington nonprofit focused on economic development. Before the election, she worked as an assistant chief administrative officer for Montgomery County, Md., where she and Peng raised their son and have lived more than 20 years.

Now Qi is focusing on public policy and serving her constituents, which “is in the larger spirit of giving back and paying forward,” something else she learned at Manchester.

Becoming a lawmaker “has been an amazing experience,” Qi says. Immigrants bring a unique perspective. “People like me know better than anyone why we came to this country,” she says. “This is my home. Why not me?”

For Qi, the thrill of serving in government is as fresh as it was on Election Day and not likely to fade anytime soon. “I’m just pinching myself every day.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81