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'The best fit for me'

DATE: Friday, September 6, 2019

"I feel that I have been able to complete and achieve so much thanks to the resources provided by HCC to help guide me in the right direction."

Selena Seang at HCC

Editor's Note: This first-person narrative was adapted from a speech Selena gave on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, at the reception following the HCC Foundation's 2019 benefit golf tournament at Springfield Country Club. 

I am a 20-year-old, part-time student, majoring in human services at Holyoke Community College. I currently live in Amherst with my family to save money. Attending HCC was the best fit for me because after high school I was not sure what I wanted to major in and what I wanted to commit to. Also, financially, it was better for myself and my family.

I am the daughter of two Cambodian refugees, survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. My family escaped the war and was sent to live in the United States. Years later, after settling here, my parents became dependent on alcohol caused by the depression they developed from the trauma they witnessed and experienced in Cambodia - starvation, execution, disease, and exhaustion from overwork. When I was 6, social services took me into foster care, along with my older brother and sister. After bouncing around several foster care homes for a year, we were sent back to live with our parents and restart our lives together.

My parents' highest education was a high school diploma. They chose to get married and have children rather than to continue with college.

My first year at HCC, my family paid for my college out of their own pocket. At the time, financial aid was not an option for me because my parents did not know what financial aid was, and I did not have people around me to teach me how to apply for financial aid and scholarships.

I am a self-taught individual. The process of applying for financial aid requires tax returns, as well as a knowledge of the federal government and FAFSA, which found very complicated and struggled with.

Since last year, I have been paying my own bills with money I earned as a part-time Subway sandwich artist. I finally took action to seek the help I needed and followed through with financial aid application. I filled out my FAFSA and convinced my family to dig up the necessary documents. I even got a financial aid refund, thanks to the help of the staff in Student Accounts, who explained all of my options and were very patient with me.

The beginning of last year was especially hard for because of health and family issues, balancing school and work and trying to maintain my own mental health.

At the time I submitted my application for an HCC Foundation scholarship, I was going through the toughest time of my life. When I found out I had received the Helen M. and James E. Izatt Scholarship, I felt that my hard work, patience and persistence had paid off.

I am especially grateful to the scholarship committee for recognizing my hard work, how far I have come and how my past has sculpted me into the person I am today. It means so much more than I can put into words, knowing that there are people here like the Izatts who support my education.

This was my first ever scholarship, and I feel that my voice was finally heard, that the pain and struggle my family has gone through means something. I feel that I have been able to complete and achieve so much thanks to the resources provided by HCC to help guide me in the right direction.

This is my last year at HCC. I expect to graduate next June in hopes to either continue my education or take a gap year to travel and help those in need in communities outside of western Massachusetts.

Being granted financial support has given me the motivation and reassurance that I am on the right path in life, pushing me to dream more and make my family proud.