by Athena Sok
Hello Zags! My name is Athena Sok and I will be your student body president for this upcoming school year! I am a senior majoring in History and I am pursuing teaching certifications in Social Studies and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and raised in Tacoma, Washington. Throughout my time at Gonzaga, I have been involved in a variety of clubs and organization. I am involved in several cultural clubs such as the Filipino American Student Union, La Raza Latina, and the Asian American Union. I have also been a Resident Assistant for two years, worked with the Center for Cura Personalis, and served in GSBA as Campus Inclusivity Coordinator this past year.
A question you will often get asked throughout your time at Gonzaga is most likely, “Why did you choose to go to here?” People’s answers are usually straightforward, whether it be because of our amazing sports teams, our academic rigor, or our Zag community. Before I get into why I chose Gonzaga, I would like to tell you a little about myself that not many people would know upon first meeting me. I am a daughter of refugees from the Cambodian genocide and I am the first and only individual in my family to go to college. I was raised in a low-income community and attended a high school that was often deemed as a “drop-out factory”. Being Cambodian-American, statistics say that less than 65% finish high school and less than 14% ever receive a college degree. Despite these stereotypes I had to combat in my life, attending Gonzaga has been the best decision that I made. It is often unheard of for people like me to attend a private four-year university like Gonzaga, but my decision to choose Gonzaga and to stay here isn’t that far off from my peers.
When I first came to Gonzaga, I chose this university because of the sense of community, and to be completely honest, there were plenty of moments where that sense of community was lacking. I soon realized this feeling wasn’t uncommon for people like me. I have encountered many difficulties as a first-generation college student, and for as long as I can remember, I have been struggling with my mental health. This was a hard issue to tackle with my identity as an Asian-American since mental health is stigmatized as a weakness rather than an illness. It was hard for me to discover within myself that I was struggling and that I needed help, and what changed me for the better was discovering that I was not alone here at Gonzaga. This past year, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety – around the same time the entire student body elected me, as president. The staff, faculty, and the students here directed me to the right resources and looked out for me even before I knew I needed help. Regardless of what I was suffering from mentally, physically, and emotionally, Gonzaga has provided me with a community who saw past my imperfections, had faith in me and my potential, and sought out the best for me.
Here at Gonzaga, we care for the whole person – intellectually, spiritually, culturally, physically, and emotionally. I chose Gonzaga for the community, and I stayed because of what this community has continuously provided me. The mission we stand by as a university allows all students to feel a part of our Zag community in our own unique way, all while we are pursuing academic and professional excellence. I initially pursued a college degree to live up to my parent’s American Dream, but I chose to come to Gonzaga to live out my own dreams. With being the first in my family to go to college and the first Asian-American female president to be elected, Gonzaga has shown me that I can make my dreams flourish beyond my expectations.