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Hard work, passion drives grad

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By Gage Miskimen

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Graduating from college can be a long, tough road as it is, but for college students who are the first in their family to attend, it can be even more challenging.

Emii Le is a University of Iowa senior who will graduate this year with a double major in marketing and graphic design. Le was born in Vietnam and moved to Sioux City when she was in middle school.

Le will also be the first person in her family to graduate from college.

She said she thinks the primary goal for her family moving to America was to give her the opportunity to pursue an education.

“My family wanted me to become a doctor, you know, typical Asian family expectations,” she said and laughed. “I wanted to do what I wanted to do, so I majored in marketing.”

She said there were some problems within her family during high school, and at one point, her parents told her they wouldn’t be able to pay for her college, so she applied for as many scholarships as she could.

“I applied for over 40 scholarships and reached out to all the colleges in Iowa,” she said. “When I visited the UI, I felt that it was great and they had a good business school, and I got all of my financial aid covered by grants and scholarships.”

Melvin Ong, Le’s fiancé, said she’s hardworking and is very passionate about her goals.

“She grew up in a poor family and her parents got divorced so she had to make money to help pay for bills,” he said. “She is disciplined and that transfers to her college life as well. She knows what her goals are.”

Debra Waddick, a friend of Le’s, said she is the type of person who sets goals and achieves them.

“She’s the go-getter type of person and if she has a goal in mind, she will go get it,” she said.

With English being her second language, Le said she had a hard time fitting in initially when she moved to Iowa during her middle school years.

“I could write and speak a little bit of English because I did study it in Vietnam,” she said. “It was more about the cultural barriers. It was a little hard fitting in, and I would get bullied in middle and high school because I didn’t speak the same language.”

Le said getting involved, joining clubs and organizations was a major key to fitting in and making friends, and she continued to be involved when she arrived to the University of Iowa.

“I think the people here are very welcoming and the diversity is getting better, so I got to meet and interact with people from around the world,” she said. “I got to study abroad twice in Paris and London.”

Le said she will miss UI and the opportunities it presented her.

“I will really miss all of the friends I made and the involvement opportunities I’ve had here,” she said. “I really appreciate the faculty and the professors I met while studying here.”

Le said being the first to graduate in her family showed her that nothing is impossible.

“It proves there is nothing you can’t do, even with financial or language barriers,” she said. “I try to be the motivation for my brother who is graduating from high school. I’m trying to act as another parent for him and help him adjust to college.”

Le said other kids who are or will be first-generation students should believe in themselves and remember why they’re coming to college in the first place.

“Don’t get discouraged because you may have had fewer opportunities,” she said. “Don’t let your background be an excuse not to excel. Take the opportunities the university can give you.”

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