Your Gifts at Work Student Stories
Joseph Chandra: Thankful Every Day
I grew up on a small island off the west coast of Malaysia with my missionary parents, where I received a scholarship to attend a small, local Christian school with my brother.
I loved the personalized classes and Christ-oriented community that surrounded me, reminding me daily of the goodness and love of Jesus and forming a strong basis for my faith. This introduction to financial aid and the generosity of others made a lasting impact on me.
When my brother graduated from high school in 2015, my parents decided to take time off from the field to help him adjust to living in the United States for college. I had to leave my wonderful friends and community in Malaysia and move to the states for a year. After spending nearly my whole life where I had genuine, caring friends, I felt uncomfortable with this change in my life and found it difficult to understand a new, foreign culture.
Because of my family’s limited finances, I attended a public school in Illinois. Although I enjoyed my time in the area, I thought the cold, barren weather reflected my spiritual journey. I no longer felt the daily challenge from the spiritual emphasis weeks or chapels in Malaysia. No one pushed me to engage and grow in my love for Christ. The private, Christian schools in the area that could have encouraged my spiritual growth were out of reach financially.
When my senior year rolled around, my parents suggested I apply to Westmont College and visit the campus while we waited to hear about my acceptance. God apparently wanted me at Westmont. As soon as I started talking with my admissions counselor, he told me I’d been accepted and invited to apply to the Augustinian Scholars Program! We’d been worried about finances and received an answer to our prayers. I felt like I was floating; my dream was coming true. I soon decided to commit to Westmont and its affordable Christian education.
Then COVID-19 affected everything. My school went completely remote, and only essential businesses remained open. In my senior year, my last chance to appreciate my home for the past 10 years of my life, I lost so much. I never said goodbye to my friends; I never finished so many conversations. The combination of school being completely remote and the isolation of spending time only with my family left me in a deep depression. I became bitter at the loss of my senior year, supposedly the best time of my high school experience. It was stripped away from me so suddenly. When the time finally came to go to America, I was ready to attend college and meet people in person.
Once in our house, a communal living area for missionaries in Pasadena, we started receiving calls from the school about the COVID situation. We learned that at least the first month of school would occur completely online. My heart sank. I felt like I’d come from Malaysia just to do the same online learning, and I started looking into other options. I had to choose between an immediate, guaranteed learning experience in person or a school remaining remote indefinitely. I prayed about it long and hard with my family, and we chose to stay with Westmont. The college reopening in September meant everything to me.
Having lived on campus, I’ve realized how blessed I am to be at Westmont. I’m so happy to be surrounded by professors and friends who genuinely care about me and have my best interests in mind. I’ve thrived socially even with the firm COVID guidelines of wearing a mask and staying six feet apart at all times. I’ve participated in life-changing opportunities such as a remote internship from a multi-faith organization based in San Francisco and membership in the Asian Student Association on campus. I enjoy the amazingly temperate Santa Barbara weather and the beauty of nature on campus. I love watching the sunsets on East Beach and getting Panda Express in the charming downtown. Everyday I’m reminded that I’m blessed to be at Westmont, safe and studying in person. Every day, I give thanks for the people who’ve allowed me to be here: Westmont donors. The generous contributions of people with true passion for this school and everything it stands for allow me to give my testimony.
Beyond Westmont, I want to pursue a career in some form of counseling. I want to use my passion for psychology to ensure that no one ever has to go through life alone like I did during my senior year. Experiencing this COVID pandemic and online school has made me realize that we need other people to succeed in life; we can’t do it alone. With your support, I know I’ll have the opportunity to faithfully serve others with my passion!
I’m so excited for what’s next for me on this journey. I’m waiting to discover what God has in store for me. But I know that your generous donation allows me to dream bigger and smile wider. Thank you!
-Joseph Chandra '24
Other Student Stories
The Right Gift at the Right Time
Kim Leyva started classes her first year at Westmont and then faced an unexpected crisis: "Your account is past due."
She couldn’t believe her eyes. Was it true? Kim Leyva, known as Kimmy, had started her first semester at Westmont weeks earlier. She read the email with alarm. “Your account is past due by $5,000.”
Kim had longed for the Christian community at Westmont throughout high school. Getting accepted and enrolling had been so exciting. But suddenly her dream was ending before it had barely begun. Despite her generous financial aid package, she faced the reality of a shortfall that day. “I remember sitting in my dorm room wondering, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Open Doors & Change Lives
Lydia was born in China, but no record of her birth exists. Found under a bridge and taken to an orphanage, she remained there until a courageous single woman rescued her and filled her life with hope.
Suellen Grenko, an American English/ESL teacher in her 50s, heard about the one-child policy in China creating a crisis of abandoned baby girls and felt called to act. She adopted Lydia when she was about 20 months old, brought her to the United States, and raised her in Northern California.
Suellen worked multiple jobs to support her family of two. She shared her love of books with her daughter and provided violin lessons. Together they dreamed of college but knew their limited finances presented a significant obstacle. Hard work and sacrifice wouldn’t be enough to put Lydia through four years of college.
Remove Barriers- Provide Opportunity
Emily Sutcliff, a political science major, comes from a family dedicated to Scouting. One of three siblings, Emily has been a Girl Scout for 13 years. Emily’s twin brother, Jonathan, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy caused by a pinched umbilical cord in utero. Despite his challenges, Jonathan is also a Scout, and his indomitable spirit inspires Emily to advocate for under-represented voices. One day, she hopes to pursue a law degree and work to reform adoption agencies, half-way homes, and the foster care system.