Guangjie Yang Hopton arrived at Whitworth in January 1987 unconvinced that she needed to believe in God. The convincing began soon after Spring Break, when the exchange student from Nanjing University, in China, fell seriously ill. Swollen lymph nodes and a fever left her bedridden for six weeks. Then the fever climbed to 104 degrees, landing Hopton in the hospital, where she was initially diagnosed with lymph cancer.
"I was 21 years old and thought I might die very soon," Hopton recalls. "I felt something was missing in my life that I hadn't figured out before my life would end."
At Whitworth, Hopton had encountered a caring Christian community, and she attended campus programs that prompted her to consider questions about faith. She also attended Knox Presbyterian Church with her host family, Clair and Carol Jones and their three sons, who cared for her throughout her illness. (Clair helped launch The Whitworth Foundation and served on its board for 21 years.)
Just before Hopton underwent a biopsy, she accepted Christ as her savior when she prayed with a pastor and his wife who had befriended her. She recalls thinking at the time, "If God made all of these people so kind, then I want to have their God."
Doctors eventually diagnosed Hopton – correctly – with lymphangitis, a virus that attacks the lymphatic system. She underwent a blood transfusion and her immune system rallied.
That summer Hopton moved into Arend Hall and caught up on the spring courses she had missed. An English major, she took classes through the fall semester and made the Dean's Honor Roll. In January, before returning to China, Hopton was baptized at Knox.
"I had a great experience here," she says. "People loved me, people were so kind to me. I learned so much."
Hopton's Whitworth experience drew her back to the U.S. in 1992 for further study, and she eventually earned a juris doctor degree. She practiced law with several U.S. firms in Hong Kong before joining Alibaba Group in 2005.
As assistant general counsel for Alibaba, a vast Chinese e-commerce company on par with Amazon, Hopton focuses on international corporate work, strategic transactions and employee equity incentives. In 2014, she helped draft the documents for Alibaba's initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. She stood on the floor of the exchange the day the company's $25 billion IPO set a world record.
Early in her career, Hopton found it challenging to practice law as a Christian. "But God is great," she says. "He has allowed me to trust him more and to not compromise my faith for the sake of my profession."
Hopton's strong faith today took root at Whitworth 30 years ago. "I met so many important people who changed me," she says. "I don't know how I would have come to know God otherwise."