By Mary Htoo, with Natalie Romero

As I prepared to enroll in spring quarter classes at La Sierra University, my mental checklist went something like this:

  • Academic scholarship? Check. 
  • Two on-campus jobs? Got ‘em. 
  • Matching grant from last summer’s literature evangelist earnings? Locked-in.

It looked good at first glance, but there were some items that I couldn’t quite cross off the list. I still needed an off-campus job. I still had debts from winter quarter. And there wasn’t enough money to cover my spring tuition.

Mary Htoo Studying at Laptop

I wasn’t sure how to make ends meet, but if I could just finish the details of my financial aid package, then maybe…

Enter COVID-19

My world was turned upside down in a matter of days. La Sierra was shut down to help stop the spread of the disease, which meant my campus housing was no longer an option. I had to go home to Utica, New York with what little means I had, and no promise of continued employment. At home, everything was in lockdown too. I had to adjust to online learning in a different time zone—all while worried sick about whether or not my finances could make it work. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to face challenges. I was born into them—literally! A few years after I was born, my family and I were sent to a Thai refugee camp. My lineage is of the Karen people, an ethnolinguistic group that has faced persecution in Myanmar; my parents escaped this persecution, searching for a better life. Nothing has ever been easy for us, but determination and perseverance are in my blood. We emigrated to the United States when I was seven years old.

Mary Htoo as a child.

When I went back to Utica after the campus closure, money was already tight. And without the help of my on-campus jobs, I found myself facing a new set of obstacles. My mental checklist was now overflowing, and I had no idea how to start climbing these new mountains.

  • Tuition?
  • Textbooks? 
  • Reliable internet access? 
  • Everyday essentials?

But La Sierra didn’t leave me in the lurch. Thanks to various donors who support the Emergency Student Aid Fund, I was able to cross that unexpected mountain range and stay enrolled in the classes I need to keep me on track. Receiving that help made a huge difference in my life. Knowing that people care enough about the value of education to make an investment in me and others like me is a feeling I can’t describe. And in this not-so-normal time, it is a blessing to be a normal student without the former burdens of financial stress.

Mary Htoo in a garden.

When we get back to campus, I’ll get to fulfill my role as the 2020-2021 SALSU social vice president and coordinate our first student events. I’ll get to continue my classes in person, in the same time-zone as my teachers and peers, and work to complete my degree in International Business. I hope to bring Karen culture to the world, and I know I’m already on my way there thanks to La Sierra.

Help Students Like Mary

Contributions like those that aided Mary are life-changing. Please click here to see how you can help support students at La Sierra University.