Photo for Global Studies graduate wins UCLA
Katya Daniel stands next to an individualized poster created for the awards ceremony. (Photo: UCLA Alumni Association.)

Global Studies graduate wins UCLA Young Alumnus award

Katya Daniel (UCLA 2008) was named 2019 Young Alumnus of the Year at the annual UCLA Alumni Association awards ceremony held June 8, 2019, at the Luskin Conference Center.

The following is an abbreviated version of Katya's acceptance remarks:

If I could choose just one word to describe UCLA it would undoubtedly be “opportunity.” In the past 100 years, this university has opened countless doors for thousands of individuals. But for me, it goes so far beyond that. UCLA also taught me how to be brave enough to walk through them. And if I failed, how to be brave enough to try again.

I am an immigrant from the Republic of Moldova, a country that most people have never heard of or, if they have, it’s because they happened to read an article about how it’s the poorest, least visited country in Europe. What even fewer people know is that along with the debilitating poverty comes rampant corruption and widespread human trafficking. Researchers found that Moldovan citizens were some of the unhappiest in the entire world because they lack hope. I think most of us would agree that without opportunity, hope feels like a concept that’s always just a bit out of reach.
Read an abbreviated version of her remarks.

When my family left Moldova to immigrate to America, I didn’t speak English and growing up here, it wasn’t just that it was difficult to fit in, it was that sometimes I even struggled to feel worthy. Constantly chasing the ever-elusive goal of acceptance while struggling with overwhelming “what ifs” and “am I enoughs?”

Katya Daniel receives her award from UCLA International Institute Director Chris Erickson (left) and
delivers her acceptance remarks (right). (Photos: UCLA Alumni Association.)

It wasn’t until my time at UCLA that I truly understood the meaning of “belonging,” and felt it so deeply for the first time in my life. Being around so many incredible individuals whose experiences resonated with my own created a sense of hope I hadn’t felt before. I experienced a culture of diversity and true inclusion; a culture that created safe spaces to fail and support networks to encourage you to try again. A culture that gave me the confidence I had been searching for.

With time, the “what ifs” became less about what could go wrong, and more about what could be possible. Instead of “what if I fail,” I began to think, “what if I succeed?” When faced with an opportunity, I thought less about fears that one day would have stopped me and thought instead about how amazing it would be if I walked through that door and succeeded. Of course, I didn’t always succeed, in fact, I failed a lot, too. But by that time, I had come to see my failures as life lessons, not life sentences.

So by age 21, without even realizing it, I learned how to be brave.

When I left UCLA, I resolved to take this community’s extraordinary values with me. UCLA had forever shaped my vision of the future and way I choose to impact the world. I envisioned a world with empathy for our unique experiences, where we treat each other with kindness, where we can be vulnerable.

In the past 10 years since graduation, I’ve been able to dedicate my career to creating cultures within organizations that embrace the very Bruin concept that when one of us grows, we all grow. I am now able to coach individuals on achieving professional success, teaching them to be brave in pursuit of their goals. I have found my passion in creating opportunity for others the same way that UCLA did for me.

So although words cannot express the depth of my immense gratitude to this university, let me end with this. Thank you UCLA, not just for opening so many doors for me and thousands of others, but for teaching me to be brave enough to walk through them and when I’m on the other side, teaching me to be the kind of leader that holds the door open for others.

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The UCLA International Institute congratulates Katya on her award! We look forward to working closely with you and the UCLA Alumni Association over the coming year. For more information about Katya, click here

Watch an Alumni Association interview with Katya, followed by the award ceremony. See the poster of Katya shown in the picture above. 

Originally published June 24, 2019; updated on July 2.