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South Seattle College graduate Marady Duong was awarded the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) Transforming Lives Award in Olympia on Jan. 23, 2017. Marady received a $500 cash prize along with four other students selected from community and technical colleges across the state.
The winners shared their stories with college trustees, presidents and Washington state legislators at the Jan. 23 award ceremony to rousing applause for their journeys that exemplify how lives can be transformed by pursing higher education at a community or technical college.
Marady immigrated to Washington state from Cambodia in 2011. She started taking English as a Second Language classes at South Seattle College, and through her own drive, encouragement from instructors and scholarship support, graduated from South in 2016 with associate degrees in Business and Business Information Technology. She became a campus leader during her time here, participating in student government and starting the Southeast Asian Association student club. Today, Marady attends the University Of Washington Foster School Of Business.
Duong was nominated for the award by the Seattle Colleges Board of Trustees.
“Marady’s journey from rural Cambodia to Seattle required her to overcome many challenges, both in her home country and as a new immigrant to the U.S.,” Seattle College Board of Trustees Chair Teresita Batayola wrote in her nomination letter. “Without question, Marady’s life has been transformed for the better since the moment she decided to sign up for an ESL class at South Seattle College.”
Below is Marady’s story, told in her own words:
I was born in a small rural village in Cambodia, where there was no electricity or running water and a poor education system. Growing up in single parent family after my father left us, I started selling cookies door-to-door in order to buy food and school supplies when I was seven years old. Yearning for a better education, my family moved to live in an urban city, Phnom Penh, so I could complete my high school diploma. When time allowed, I volunteered as an English teacher and administrator for a non-profit organization called “Our Home.” Many of the children were from families suffering from HIV. Those that did survive often couldn’t afford to care for their children. My heart went out to those children because of my own similar hardships.
After immigrating to the United States in 2011, the financial struggles my family faced in our new environment forced me to keep my educational goals on hold. I worked over 70 hours a week at two jobs, packing fish and crab at a seafood processing plant and grilling and wrapping sandwiches at a McDonald’s to support family who had come to Seattle and those who stayed in Cambodia.
After working that unrelenting schedule for over a year, I realized that without an education I would have this kind of career for the rest of my life. So, I decided to attend college.
Because my English was very limited, I first started at South Seattle College as an English as Second Language (ESL) student. After one year, through the courage and support I got from my family and professors, I started taking a pre-college class in hope I could become the first person in my family go to college. Unable to afford tuition, I made monthly payments and only took one class at a time.
However, everything started to change when I was aided by South’s resources. Receiving scholarships from the South Seattle College Foundation meant that I was able to work 30 hours a week, rather than 70. Their gift not only gave me the funds I needed to continue my education, but the confidence that someone believed that I was worth their investment. My favorite resources became the Asian Pacific Islander Center (AANAPISI), TRiO, South’s writing and tutoring centers, advising services, and the financial aid office. For example, my TRiO advisor was always there to help me find resources and map my education goals. Without their support, I would be working for a minimum wage for the rest of my life.
As a result of an AANAPISI scholarship, I was South’s student representative for the Higher Education Summit in Washington, D.C. In addition to this, I was a founder of the Southeast Asian Association student club by networking with other Southeast Asian students on campus to share our culture, leadership skill, volunteer opportunities, and life challenges. Lastly, in addition to my work and campus involvement, I fundraised at my temple and volunteer as an interpreter for my family, co-workers and neighbors when they need a translator at their doctor appointments or with their case workers.
I graduated from South Seattle College with an Associate’s Degree in Business Information Technology in 2015 and was awarded the President’s Medal at graduation. I extended my education goal and experience by going back to South to obtain a second Associate’s Degree in Business, and graduated again in 2016.
After graduating, I was accepted to the Foster School of Business at University of Washington, where today I major in Human Resource Management and minor in International Business.
I want to be successful because since I was young, I’ve wanted to become a businesswoman. Specifically, I want to create my own non-profit for youths. I have learned a lot from challenges that I have faced and know how to seek help when I am struggling. I would like to share these qualities with others, and help them overcome their own challenges.
My advice for other students is to give yourself a chance to reach your dream. Believe in yourself; believe that you can do it. Do not give up and don’t be shy about asking for help because there are a lot of people willing to help you reach your goals.