When 17 year-old Lauren Macasiljig filed into the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California with fellow members of the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley last September, she thought she was just going to enjoy performances by music idols Beyonce and Jay-Z. But during the concert, DJ Khalid announced that she was chosen as a recipient of a scholarship to fund her college tuition—something she had been struggling to figure out for months.
Lauren is a straight-A student and lives in East Side San Jose, California with her parents Luannie and Lyndon who, five years ago, decided to take jobs in the US. They brought with them their three children: Lauren, Jarod, and Jolie. At that time, Lauren was 12 and struggled to cope with using English every day in school. “I used to need help to have assignments translated for me so I could do them,” she recalls.
But with determination, she has consistently performed well academically and was elected student body president. When she was a freshman in 2016, she joined the local Boys and Girls Club of America chapter as a member of the Junior Staff. The club website describes it as a program for teens interested in careers in human services. She continues to works with other children in the rough parts of her neighborhood, helping them learn about leadership and teamwork. She is now a a regular staff member.
About two weeks before the concert, her supervisor, Adam Hernandez, sat down with Lauren to ask her some questions. Unbeknownst to her, this was part of the process of nomination for the scholarship. In partnership with the club, the BeyGOOD and Shawn Carter foundations are granting 11 exceptional club members with financial need to attend a college of their choice.
She almost did not hear her name called as the scholarship recipient. The “On The Run” concert coincided with Lauren’s school homecoming dance. As student body president, she told her supervisors, she needed to attend to her responsibilities there. “So at first, I told Adam that I would love to go to the concert but I can’t because I have duties in school. But they were adamant about me going. “‘What can we do so that you go?’ they asked. I didn’t have a clue about what was going on.” Due to their insistence, she skipped the dance and went to the concert instead.
She recounts: “At first, I was numb. I didn’t know they were doing anything special. They were gathering everybody who was part of the Boys and Girls Club in one area. And I thought it was just an announcement like a donation to the club as a whole. I didn’t know it was a scholarship awarded to me. When they called my name, I didn’t listen for it. When the description of whom they were awarding the scholarship to was being read out, I guess I started piecing things together. I was kind of numb and I didn’t really listen for them to call out my name, but I did know that DJ Khaled pronounced my name correctly!”
Lauren says her dream would be to study at Columbia University. “Right now, I am applying for Global Studies (International Relations) or Economics with an emphasis on Political Science.” She has been determined to take this path for a few years but has been worried about how to pay the tuition. Although both of her parents work in Silicon Valley, a four-year university education is pricey.
Lauren ultimately wants to become an immigration lawyer. “Living in the East Side of San Jose, where there are many families who migrated, legally or illegally, to the US, you see a lot of issues coming up recently. It is a common topic talked about in my community. There are deportation officers knocking on people’s doors. Families are being torn apart at the border. Working at the Boys and Girls Club, where a lot of the kids come from low income and immigrant families, that becomes a big fear for them. I’ve always been inspired to give back so I thought, aside from giving specifically to my community, why not be a part of a bigger change in the world?”
The 17-year-old appreciates that emigrating to America has helped her and her family. “ I think my parents deciding to take me and my siblings to the US has definitely opened bigger doors of opportunities for us, in terms of education and job opportunities. Growing up in Silicon Valley, with both of them work in the tech industry, it exposed us to better options in terms of jobs that we can do. I have prospered from what it has brought us.”
At the same time, she has not forgotten her roots. She comes from a tight-knit extended family and still remembers: “Growing up in the Philippines, we were not living in poverty nor did we have a lavish lifestyle. But I was exposed to different problems, what people’s lives would be like in poverty. That taught me the importance of hard work, the importance of giving back to your community and country.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides opportunities and experiences to about 4.3 million youth a year—ones that can change their lives for the better.
Lauren Macasiljig is on Twitter at @laurnnoelle.