Windy Ly is a 2013 Meritus Scholar and 2017 graduate of Sacramento State University. She recently took the time to address the Meritus class of 2017 at our annual awards reception, sharing hard-won advice from her college journey. Here is what she had to say:
Growing up with immigrant parents, I had a hard time finding my identity and my place in this culturally rich city. For a long time, my family depended a lot on the city for government assistance. I remember bouncing from neighborhood to neighborhood for section 8 housing, and for the longest time we depended on food stamps. Both my parents are disabled in some form and were unable to work, but they did what they could to provide resources for me and my older sister. They pushed heavily for the both of us to go to college and reach for the American dream. Halfway through high school, with all the organizations I was involved with, I believed I found my calling in public service. I wanted to give back to the community and help those that were in the same socioeconomic class as mine, especially in attaining higher education. At the time I really believed that going to law school and becoming a public figure was the way to go, but through my mistakes and successes, I realized that was not necessarily true.
First, let me tell you a couple mistakes I made during my first two years in college: I overexerted and overbooked myself, for a long time I had no such thing as a work/life balance, and I didn’t utilize the resources that Sac State and Meritus had to offer nearly enough. As a first generation college student, my family has long seen education as the platform upon which to build – for my parents’ ceiling would become my floor. Unfortunately while growing up, I did not fully grasp the intricacies of higher education and the opportunities it could provide. During my first year I often missed little moments due to having my nose buried deep in studies. I didn’t put nearly enough focus on my physical and mental health, I missed out on potential friendships, new experiences, and adventures.
I made mistakes, I also learned from them. I got to a place where I knew I needed to make a change and take advantage of the resources that were available to me. Within a bumpy four years I successfully finished my government degree in three years, coordinated a mentoring program for the government department, traveled to 14 countries, was a congressional intern for a semester in Washington DC, came back and completed a philosophy minor in a semester and graduated with honors from Sacramento State. You’ll quickly learn that college is full of little epiphanies that make you go… “Wow, I’m not who I was a year ago or even a week ago.”
I could not have accomplished any of those without a strong support system. I had my family and friends to support and push me to be the best version of myself. I also had Meritus. Beyond the financial support, my donors and advisors were always ready and available to help guide me. I hope you learn from my mistake and utilize Meritus’ academic and professional resources early on. They are readily available; you just have to the first step to ask for help or just take advantage of the resources they put in front of you. They have provided professional resources by helping me update my resume, write my first cover letter, and now they’re helping me apply to an internship at a Fortune 500 company. They have also provided emotional support and my advisors are like my personal cheerleaders. So huge thank you to my Meritus family.
With an open mind, I no longer feel obligated to follow the path I once predetermined for myself. I have seen, learned, and experienced so much that I no longer feel obligated to go to law school (although it will always be an option), and I no longer believe that being a public official is the only way to make a difference. I know that whatever I end up doing, I will be helping others. Currently my application for the Peace Corps for a position in Armenia and Thailand is under review, I’m looking into potential graduate programs abroad, and I’m applying to be a public affairs intern with a focus on healthcare.
Students, as you embark on your next adventure, be open to the infinite possibilities of your future. College is the time where you explore your options and discover what you like and don’t like and what you’re passionate about. It will provide the opportunities for you to uncover the person that you have been all along. You’ll inevitably make mistakes, but you’ll learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. If plan A doesn’t work out, you have the rest of the alphabet to go through, because there is never one set path that you absolutely have to follow to achieve your dreams. And don’t forget, Meritus is your partner. Be sure to take advantage for all they have to offer. Thank you.