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Written By Nathalie Sarju
Edited By Aanchal Khurana

It is truly a privilege. Those before us - our mothers, our grandmothers and our superwomen before them - were unable to take advantage of the opportunity we deem as education. It never came knocking on their doors. Instead, the Indian and Indo-Caribbean women in my family were raised to be wives, chefs, mothers, daughters, and homemakers. Their journeys molded my personal beliefs but also inspired my self-transformation throughout the years.

As a young girl, I created a reality of what college represented through movies and TV shows from the perspectives of people who looked nothing like me. It’s enough of a challenge for brown girls to attend primary school in oiled braids and rocking unibrows; to also add a constant search for role models -- outside of my family -- was the opposite of icing on the cake. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school when I realized I could take my journey beyond the lines of my city. I started with big, hopeful eyes at the PSAT on the table in front of me, in awe of the number of universities across the nation and globe I could connect to. I immersed myself in research of universities, scholarships, standardized tests, and extra-curricular work.I think back now and still remember feeling how big my world could be sitting in that classroom, and wonder if there are students shifting in their seats today in their final years of high school, wondering where their journey will lead them next. The answer is simple: where ever the shoes on your feet and the feet in your shoes can travel.

Today, at the age of 21, I am immensely grateful to say that I shattered a mold forced upon generations before me, by obtaining not only my Bachelor of Science in Psychology, but my Master of Science in Social Work, too. At the age of 21, my ancestors embodied resilience and my great-grandmothers cared for more kids than I can count on my fingers while withstanding whatever their marriages, families and children threw at them. At the age of 21, my grandmother was courageous enough to seek opportunity and venture to the unknown with her children and my mother held the status of an immigrant, mother of two and wife who would take the moon from the night sky for her family. It was these women before me that inspired me to manifest the willpower and strength to push forward each day. My motivation was not the degree or the career or the prestige; my motivation was the next generation, my sister, my future daughters and each little girl that would follow. When you close your eyes on a hard day, when you feel like it’s all crashing down or not worth the anxiety and stress, who do you see? What’s the motivation that you channel in difficult moments?

As a college-bound and first-generation young woman, I ventured to New York University to follow a passion to help others and give a voice to adolescents and children as a psychologist. My lack of expertise in the college experience paired with a lack of sunshine and support resulted in a state of depression. This dream was not all it turned out to be. It’s okay that my dream school wasn’t a dream and it was okay that my first try at my dreams was a lesson. I returned to the sunshine state of Florida, cared for my mental health and embraced my family as my main support system. In my transition, my goals also transformed. I did not want to help children just cope with a circumstance they were born into or a mental health issue they suffered from. I wanted to change it. I wanted to make an impact and support little ones in pursuing their dreams outside of their zip codes. I wanted to advocate, uplift and inspire. Through this unexpected turn, I found social work and my true calling. Looking back, I would encourage my younger self to embrace the unannounced and unplanned moments during my journey. You can try your best to note your hopes for your journey in your planner, you can have the most organized calendar and the perfect five-year plan, but on some days you’ll find that your best days are the ones that happen by surprise.

After graduating from my undergraduate alma mater, I immediately took on the next challenge - graduate school. I was stronger, I was more resilient and I had a clear picture of my reason - the next generation. This time around, New York City embraced me with open arms and I pursued social work alongside Columbia University. Columbia University invited me to challenge my own privilege and systems of oppression while my work inspired me to instill smiles in children each day. Success doesn’t come easy and, in this field specifically, it doesn’t come without shedding a few tears.

Upon reflection, it wasn’t a good cup of coffee or an ideal study spot that helped me over the obstacles in my educational journey. My support system, my motivation and my drive maintained a power in me to always want more, do more and be more. Sure, my Google calendar and Google drive organized my busy, demanding life to very last minute, but it wasn’t Google that cheered me up when I felt overwhelmed or small. It was those closest to me; It was family, my partner sisters, and fellow classmates that listened, provided warmth  and showed me my ability to manifest magic. So go ahead, show the world your magic.