The VIPs Speak Out

They came from the Westside of Los Angeles, Burbank, Koreatown, Michigan, Vietnam, and more. Some had walked, others had ridden their bikes, or woken up extra early to ride a few buses, or the Expo Train. Still others had left families thousands of miles away. On August 25, 2017 they converged on the Santa Monica College main campus wearing smiles and new backpacks filled with goodies they had been handed at registration. It was VIP Welcome Day: a fancy—but aptly-put—name for a new student orientation designed with workshops, fun events, and information sessions to help these Very Important People get familiar with their home for the next couple years. 1,650 students came with friends, parents, siblings—even children. SMC in Focus wandered around and spoke to 12 of them…and found that one thread united all the new students: they had chosen SMC because they believe this college can help them fulfill their dream—or find their path. Read on.

Kenyon McElway

Kenyon McElway Jr.

(From: Farmington Hills, Michigan)

Goal at SMC:

I came here to study film and cinema. I want to transfer to the USC Film School or NYU. (My favorite director is Christopher Nolan!)

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I’ve always [had] a creative mind, I’ve always liked movies. Outside of football, that’s all I was into. I played football in high school and I didn’t want to play it in college.

Why SMC?

I was accepted into some [four-year] schools but they were too expensive—I was accepted into Columbia University too. I couldn’t afford it, so I looked for schools to go to, and SMC came up. It would save me some money, and they had a good film program…and I could transfer out of here.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

That I’m determined and more than willing to work very hard. I cut out all the distractions. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I have Twitter but I don’t even use it. I’m just here to take care of business!


Antonia Stearns

Antònia Stearns

(From Los Angeles, California )

Goal at SMC:

I want to find a passion for something. I’m taking my general education classes…English and math. I got into the Scholars program, so I’m also taking Psychology and Business classes.

Why did you choose this approach in life?

I want to have fun with what I do. When I put my everything into something, it always

comes out beautifully.

Why SMC?

I applied to many different colleges and I did get in. But I’m paying for my own college tuition, and I chose to not be in debt. Then I found out about the SMC Scholars Program…

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I would like that you might remember me later.


Adrian Venegas

(From: Torrance, California)

Goal at SMC:

Transfer to UCLA or USC. Possibly move out of state and attend Arizona State University. I want to major in Psychology, to become a therapist. I want to help kids who are poor, also kids who confront depression or are having thoughts of suicide.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

Not long ago, I was in therapy for depression, for over a year. It’s a big goal of mine, to be a therapist…that not a lot of people can support. But I want others to know that there is always hope.

Why SMC?

I live in a community where there are actually two community colleges but I didn’t want to see the same people from high school. I wanted a fresh start. SMC was one of my first choices.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I’m very humble and you can approach me any time for help or just to have a conversation.

Hyacinth Vergara

(From: Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles)

Goal at SMC:

Finish up the requirements that I need for transfer to a university. I would like to go to UCLA or UC Davis, which has a school for veterinary studies.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I grew up with animals and I want to make a better connection with them, because we see how animals are being treated sometimes on social media. I want to help spread awareness of how treatment of animals is affecting us as well.

Why SMC?

My friend actually recommended SMC to me. I got into Cal Poly, but I chose SMC because they have a good Scholars program to transfer to different universities.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

That I’m very shy, I guess. I’m more like a one-on-one learner.

Vanessa O’Brien

(From: Burbank, California)

Goal at SMC:

My goal is to transfer with an Associate Degree…I am undecided where. Maybe out of state…Oregon? Not sure of major, undecided. Maybe Philosophy or Psychology.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I think humans are very interesting and how they form in groups and how they present themselves even though that’s not how they are. You can understand people better and relate to them better through these fields. I’m not afraid to talk to people…I try to level with people.

Why SMC?

I wanted to go to a college outside my hometown. And it’s really beautiful here, it’s a great school. Definitely different from all the other community colleges. I got a call from SMC yesterday and they were very personal, and friendly. I think this is a college that’s more serious, not for dilly-dallying. I want to be done soon and move on to the next chapter of my life. So I thought SMC would be the best choice for that.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

Like everyone else, I’m trying to do my best to better my life, to learn…we’re going into a new world and era. I want people to know that I’m trying, everyone’s trying. If everyone is kind and positive, it makes the experience a lot easier, and the transition better.

Monica Ly

(From: Burbank, California)

Goal at SMC:

Transfer to San Francisco State University.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I’m thinking of going into interior design and San Francisco State has a good program. I really like furniture; I think it’s fun to decorate rooms.

Why SMC?

I just wanted to get out of the area where I grew up and experience new things. Santa Monica is beautiful and the transfer rate here is great.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I like challenges. I’m ready for some obstacles and new challenges.

Luke Pilapil

(From: Redondo Beach, California)

Goal at SMC:

I want to make a lot of connections with people and hopefully meet a lot of new people… but my end goal is to transfer to a university. I have USC in mind, but we’ll see which one I get into, and which one is for me.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I’m taking a film class, a global studies class, math and literature too. I’m really interested in film. I’ve grown up here in Los Angeles, so I think I should take the opportunity. There’s so much you can do in the [film/entertainment] industry. There are so many aspects to it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue since I was a kid, since I was five, since I could talk.

Why SMC?

I definitely want to stay in Los Angeles, that’s one of the reason why I’m going to SMC, because I want to stay close to the industry. There are many community colleges in Los Angeles but I chose SMC because I’ve heard there is a really good reputation with transferring and it’s a really nice campus. Plus, it’s in Santa Monica, which is a beautiful city, its right near the beach and overall the vibe I felt was really different than other colleges.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I’m open to everything and I want to experience everything. I’m not scared. You know, this is my first year in college…there is not only one path I’m looking for. If there’s something new that’s better for me, I’m open to that. I’m not here just to transfer, if I find some other things…that’s perfect.

Thuyen Nguyen.

(From: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Goal at SMC:

My goal is to transfer to a university. I think probably Cal State Long Beach, in graphic design.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

Maybe because I think it is suitable for me. Actually I went to university when I was in Vietnam and I spent one year to figure out what I really liked ended up with graphic design and it suited me perfectly.

Why SMC?

Because I did all the research online through Google, and this is a nice place for me to study because of the diverse culture and people seem very friendly.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I’m really friendly and maybe sometime I’m a little bit shy with new friends.

Talayah Henry

(From: Crenshaw, Los Angeles)

Goal at SMC:

Study hard, maintain my grades and then transfer to a university. I want to go to USC because they cater more to what I want to do. My major is animation and illustration. I just want to pursue an art career.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

I’ve always loved being able to create, I love being able to create worlds, stories, characters… just make my own worlds.

Why SMC?

This school is amazing plus I’ve heard about their reviews, the high transfer rate, the people… it’s really amazing.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I may come off like different than other people but it’s because I want to show that I’m unique as a person. I want to reach out to my community, the African-American community.

Sarah Wright

(From: Venice, California)

Goal at SMC:

Figure out what I’m supposed to start doing in my life. Find my path.

Why SMC?

The campus is pretty much a home for me; I’ve been here for many years, just visiting friends. I can take the Expo line from my house. On top of that, I know that the curriculum is something that is easy for me to work with.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

I’m a very ambitious person and sometimes that ambition may or may not turn into competitiveness so….I’m also very funny, that’s a good thing, I think. I made [new] friends already, so I think I’m doing pretty well.

Sean John

(From: Koreatown, Los Angeles, California)

Goal at SMC:

To transfer…hopefully in one year instead of two. Maybe to UCLA, UC Berkeley or UCLA. I want to study computer science.

Why did you choose that particular goal?

My dad is a computer science major himself and then when I grew older, I was working with him. You know all those movies you can see all the coding and stuff? It always looked…cool. Yeah, it just seemed cool.

Why SMC?

I heard about it from a friend.

What would you like your Santa Monica College family to know about you?

It’s hard for me to connect to people in the beginning.

* * *

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