Maria De Leon, the immigrant daughter of a Filipina nanny in the United States, has graduated with honors and a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Harvard University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Maria was born and raised for six years in the Philippines, grew up in Chicago, and attended the Ivy League university as a pre-med student on a full scholarship at the Boston, Massachusetts campus of Harvard University.
The 24-year-old scholar attended the recent in-person graduation ceremony that Harvard was able to hold after two years of the coronavirus pandemic, although she actually graduated two years ago.
“It’s been two years since I actually graduated but we can only really celebrate now…I feel like this is the closure everyone really needed,” Maria de Leon told ABS-CBN News on June 8, 2022.
“It’s like I hit the lotto. A parent’s fervent wish is for our child to finish school. I didn’t get to finish school. Look at Maria now,” Maria’s mother Jojit De Leon said in Filipino.
Maria’s mother worked multiple jobs including being a nanny just to provide for Maria and her two siblings.
Inspired by her mother’s sacrifices, Maria earlier submitted an essay to Harvard that honors her immigrant single mom, who had to overcome many challenges, including an assault by a stranger when Maria was young.
The Filipino-American achiever believes that anybody can achieve success and overcome the odds with hard work. Maria is following her dream to go to medical school and is attending Boston University in the fall.
Maria excelled both in academics and extra-curricular activities, serving as the External Public Relations officer for Harvard’s Philippine Forum and a member of District 1 Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue.
“I think we talk ourselves out of a lot of opportunities. We say we’re not good enough, that we can’t achieve this because of this and that. But honestly, I know there are some hardships that we can’t overcome, but if you keep trying and always fighting for what you want or what you like, something fruitful will always come out of it,” Maria de Leon said in the interview.
Filipinos who overcame the odds and attended prestigious universities include award-winning Filipina photographer and former domestic worker Xyza Cruz Bacani who graduated from New York University, Joshua Mahilum, son of a sidewalk vendor and tricycle driver in Bacolod City, who completed his degree in chemical engineering, and Abra’s Edrian Bangngayen who turned from former child laborer to honor graduate.
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