Wyatt Samuelson bravely stood at the podium on stage and told his story. His first words were stunning.
“I had an absent alcoholic father and my mother was a paranoid schizophrenic,” he said.
Samuelson went on to say how part of his youth was spent living in a car, a parking lot and abandoned homes. He was neglected and ultimately placed in foster care.
Samuelson is now a sophomore English major at California State University, Northridge and has visions of going into law enforcement or politics. His was one of 11 stories told by CSUN Alumni Association scholarship recipients on Oct. 14 at The Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills for the organization’s annual scholarship awards banquet.
“In the beginning, it was hard to open up,” Samuelson said after the event. “But if I’m able to help one person with my story I’m doing justice for myself and others.”
And now, Samuelson said the scholarship will give him further strength so he can achieve his personal dreams.
“This scholarship allows me to keep going forward on my educational journey,” he said.
Each year, the CSUN Alumni Association awards graduate-student, first-generation and legacy (for children or grandchildren of CSUN alumni) scholarships culminating in an emotional ceremony where students, donors and guests celebrate the gift of giving together. Each student took a moment to thank donors and the Alumni Association, but most also share their personal stories.
Ian Frawley, a senior majoring in accountancy, told the story of his inspiration — his father, who is blind and graduated from CSUN three years ago. Frawley, who has a learning disability, said his father’s determination has helped lead him to achieve.
“Through my dad’s example, I will make things happen,” he said. “This (scholarship) is affirmation of CSUN’s values: Work hard and anything can happen.”
Associated Students Vice President Kenya Lopez, a recipient of a first-generation scholarship, spoke of how she came to the United States from Mexico about 10 years ago and had doubts at times about whether she could make it through four years of college. But she learned how to embrace the challenge.
“CSUN gave me the opportunity to challenge myself,” she said, fighting back tears. “CSUN gave me the opportunity I thought I’d never have. It has inspired me to give back. My hope is to come back one day and give back.”
Students said they were using the scholarship money to repay loans, others to buy books and lab equipment. Some even said that a scholarship would allow them to eat better. The funds for the scholarships come from donations as well as Alumni Association membership dues.
“When you give you really get a lot back — much more than what you gave,” said Irene Tovar ’ 69 (Social Science), a member of the CSUN Alumni Association Board of Directors and its former president. “Not only are you making your worth as a human being, that you care about others, but you see the gratification in the face of those students. And there’s nothing more touching than to see how they’ve been moved by you caring about them. And I think that’s the greatest feeling you get, helping make that occur for them. And you play a role, whether you understand it or not, in developing leadership for our country and also making them make a commitment to help others like they were helped. That’s a legacy we want to leave with them.”
The final recipient of the evening, Rubi Vasquez, a junior psychology major, gave a poignant end to the evening. She was 19 when she moved to the United States from El Salvador. Her mother and father had only a third-grade education back home. She came to the U.S. alone and didn’t speak any English. But she worked and helped support herself, first earning an associate’s degree in music and then coming to CSUN to help her pursue a career in marriage and family therapy.
“For a long time, I thought, ‘How am I going to pay for college?’” she told the audience. “I can barely survive on my own. I still miss my family, but everything is [working out now].”
Then she sang a song called Del Cabello Mas Sutil.
Eyes, some filled with tears, gazed at her while she delicately sang. It was her way of saying thank you and another show of bravery because she summoned the ability to sing so freely in a room full of strangers. Maybe it was easy for these students to do this because the people in the room were no longer strangers. These people, many of them helped pay for the scholarships, are now a piece of their present and future.