The Foundation’s Grantee Partner Year Up supports young women, ages 18-24, with education and workforce development training, including up to 18 college credits, job skills development and a six-month internship. On January 29, 2015 Year Up will hold its 17th Annual Graduation. Hardworking students who have completed a year of rigorous coursework and internships will celebrate a joyous year of growth and achievement. Marie Sene will be there, not only walking across the stage in triumph, but to deliver the inspiring speech below. Please read Marie’s own words about what the Year Up program, and support from donors like you, has meant in her life:
I am honored to speak on this wonderful occasion surrounded by so much talent and success. I congratulate each of you for the dedication you have shown this year. Our hard work, our grit, our achievements and the sacrifices we have made are being honored here tonight.
We all have our own unique stories and motivations as to what brought us here to Year Up. Some of you may not know, but prior to Year Up (YU) I was undocumented. It was heart breaking for me not to be able to attend college after graduating from high school in 2007. All of my colleagues were finishing college; however, I could not even afford to take a class due to my immigration status. Once the Dream Act was passed in 2013, I was able to work, but still could not afford college and could not qualify for financial aid. Year Up was that light at the end of a dark tunnel. The program offered me college credits and a stipend while learning a skill that has created a wealth of opportunities for me.
Without a doubt, Year Up has opened many doors for us. They’ve shown me that in life, you have to know what you want and never be afraid to ask for it. Six months ago we were asked to complete a survey to let the internship team know where we wanted to intern. I took a chance and told them that my dream was to work at Google. The Year Up in this region did not have a partnership with Google, but went far and beyond to get that internship. I will forever be grateful to Year Up for what they have done for me. I was the first program student in this region to intern at Google. The pressure was heavy especially from Ty on Year Up’s internship team, who is like “the YU father.” His only four words to me on our way back from our meet and greet from Google were, “Don’t mess it up.”
The whole Google internship was life changing. I must thank my manager Alex; I must say he is the reason I have saved a bit of money. Because of him and the skills I have learned from Google, I can now fix most technical issues. The Marie before Google would tell you: trash it, there is no saving this device—or as he would say, “You can’t win them all.”
Google has given me the best gift in life and that is the gift of education. They have offered to pay for my associate’s degree and offered me a well-paid summer internship until I earn it. Also, I am thankful for the great people I have met through this journey. How many people can say they have met the “father of the Internet”, Vint Cerf? Not too many. His advice for us is not only to use IPv6 (the latest Internet Protocol version), but these words of wisdom: “You cannot plan your life.” He told me, “Never be afraid to take risks, because sometimes we cannot recognize a good opportunity when it presents itself.”
Our year may be up, but our journey is only beginning. Be proud of yourselves because this is only the beginning of your journey. Be proud of yourselves for setting goals and following through; through the tears, through the long nights of staying up to turn homework in and on time. We made it!
Yes, my friends may have all graduated and it may have taken me eight years to get here, but everything has its own time and every dog has his day.
I believe that what should make you the most proud tonight is not the actual honor itself, but what you had to do to get it. As the great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” Any recognition is just the icing on the cake, not to be expected, but definitely to be enjoyed.
Finally, I challenge you not to rest on your achievements, but to continue to strive towards even higher goals.
Let’s continue to uplift and empower each other for infinity!
Note: minor editorial changes were made to the content to present the speech in this format.