Marleigh Lang remembers late daughter Natalie, whose scholarship offers assistance to international students

After her death, Natalie Lang's legacy, generosity and inspirational story live on.

Marleigh Lang and her husband Harley with their eight children at their son Matt’s wedding this past spring. Photo by Monica Kumpala.

Nearly 60 years after graduating from the University of Washington for the first time, Marleigh Lang, ’68, ’06, still vividly remembers that day. “It was the happiest day of my life up until that point,” she says. “To walk across that stage and hear my name, Marleigh Stewart, Bachelor of Science… I was so proud. I never really thought I would make it because the program was very rigorous. It was an intense journey.” Thirty-seven years, nine children, and one nursing career later, Lang once again found herself walking across a stage to pick up a diploma—this time at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus in 2006. Lang’s husband, Harley, and a handful of her children were there to congratulate her as she received a master’s degree in nursing. In the crowd, beaming the brightest and cheering the loudest, was her oldest daughter Natalie, ’97, who graduated from UW Bothell with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and, at the time of her mom’s graduation, was enrolled in the school’s Public Policy master’s program, hoping to become a lawyer.

“Thanks to Natalie getting her master’s degree, she inspired me to get mine,” Lang says. “She was just like that, always encouraging people to try new things and pursue their dreams. Her health was failing when I finished, and only six months later, she passed, but she got to see me graduate. She was like, ‘Mom, you need to do this. Do this for me.’”

Such was Natalie Lang’s way—always putting others before herself and, bolstered by a voracious appetite to experience everything in life, never slowing down, even as she suffered from kidney disease that resulted in dialysis and an organ transplant. An avid reader, gifted violinist, horse lover and community volunteer, Natalie worked as an international student adviser and, before that, an admissions adviser at UW Bothell for about 12 years. She was also the adviser for UW Bothell’s intercultural club and planned the popular intercultural night for many years.

The Lang family established an endowment in the name of their daughter Natalie. Photo by Mark Studer.

“Natalie was very well-liked and very important at UW Bothell,” says her mother, who notes that members of the Lang family (from her to her grandchildren) have earned 14 degrees through the University of Washington. “She had a passion for working with international students and would take calls from them even when she was in the hospital. She used to have students telling her that she was more helpful than their immigration lawyers.’”

Maybe it was growing up with eight younger siblings or being diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, but Natalie was a natural-born caretaker with a soft spot for outsiders. Academically gifted, Natalie started reading at a young age, and according to her mother, at just 14, she won an award from the Washington State Poetry Association—the first teenager formally recognized by the organization.

“She loved literature,” Lang says of her daughter. “She tested off the charts in reading in the second grade, and by the time she was 11, she had figured out how to order books in the mail. I remember finding ‘A Stranger is Watching’ in her room and thinking it might not be appropriate for a child. Well, then, I started reading it and couldn’t put it down!”

Natalie attended Cascade High School in Everett, graduating in 1987 with the top English Honors award and a long list of scholarships. Admitted early to the University of Washington, she was forced to find an alternative when a mix-up in application deadline dates caused the school to rescind its offer for her to start in the fall after graduation. She enrolled at Shoreline Community College with plans to transfer to UW as soon as possible, but when she heard about UW Bothell, which was less than eight miles from the Langs’ house, where she was living at the time, she looked into it.

“As soon as she heard about the Bothell campus, she came to me and said, ‘Mom, that’s where I’m going to go,” Lang recalls. “We weren’t familiar with the idea of different campuses, and at the time, it seemed a little unusual, but there was parking in front of her classroom that made it easier for her to attend.” Natalie flourished on the smaller campus and eventually found her niche helping international students navigate the often-tangled bureaucracy of admissions and immigration. Even with insurance, her medical costs were high (medication alone was around $1,000 a month), but Natalie still found a way to help out students in monetary need by setting up the International Student Scholarship, meant, according to the school’s website, “to provide tuition assistance to UWB students on an F-1 visa or those who have become permanent residents of the U.S. within the past 5 years, who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the local and/or global community, and have significant financial need.” According to Lang, her daughter noticed that last-minute costs, application fees, and health-care bills, sometimes as little as $35, often tripped up some international students—many of whom were on tight budgets.

Before she died in 2007, Natalie made her mother promise that the fund would continue. Just days before her death, she looked at Lang and said, “‘Mom, when I do die, the only thing I’m worried about is the scholarship,’” her mother recalls. “I said, ‘OK, I will make sure it keeps going.’ That made my life a little easier at the time because I knew what was important, that her main concern was that the scholarship could continue.”

After Natalie’s death, the Langs established an endowment in her name to support the work she did for international students, and the scholarship she started was renamed the Natalie K. Lang International Student Scholarship. According to Lang, giving back to UW Bothell has always been, and will continue to be, a priority for her and her husband. “We still give to Natalie’s scholarship fund,” she says. “UW and UW Bothell are important to our family. The school helped us get us past the most critical stages of grief [after Natalie died] by continuing to be involved in our lives and helping to keep the things that she started alive.”