Lucy Berbeo | December 13, 2023
Sydney Do credits an entire community with paving her path to UCLA.
After high school, the Maryland native moved to California to live with her grandparents and attend community college. But when her grandmother died and her grandfather’s health failed, the teenage Do found herself living on her own with no family support.
Searching for connection in the wider world, she volunteered at Mary’s Kitchen, an Orange County nonprofit supporting people experiencing homelessness. When the city temporarily shut down the facility, Do became an advocate for its guests, many of whom had mental illnesses or disabilities. She also volunteered at a local hospice, finding meaning in helping others during life’s darkest times. And she joined her community college’s speech and debate team, digging deeply into issues she cared about, including addiction, the health care system, poverty and racism.
The mentorship and encouragement she received in these spaces — and the act of empowering herself and others — set her on her journey to higher education and to receiving UCLA’s 2023–24 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship. The annual award recognizes and supports students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of Arthur Ashe, the legendary tennis champion and activist who graduated from UCLA in 1966.
“I realized that I wanted to do something about homelessness, but in order to do something, I had to get an education,” Do says. “It’s going to be a long fight to solve chronic homelessness, but I’d like to be useful in being part of that solution.”
Admitted to UCLA this fall as an English major, Do started out in the UCLA Academic Advancement Program’s Transfer Summer Program, where she met supportive peers as well as new mentors who urged her to apply for various undergraduate research programs. In addition to following up with the people she met at Mary’s Kitchen to find out if the city succeeded in housing them, Do hopes to study urban planning in order to look at the mechanisms of displacement and poverty on a national scale.
Inspired by the example of Ashe himself, she feels both grateful and fortunate for the honor of being named an Ashe Scholar — and for so much more.
“When I got the email that I received the scholarship, the first thing that came to mind was all the people who supported me before coming here,” Do says. “My coaches, my mentors, my hospice patients — those are the people, those are the communities that I relied on, and they carried me, and they brought me here. So I feel like I got the scholarship because of them.”
Her advice to fellow students?
“Be involved in your community,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to fall back on other people’s help when you need it. Ask for it, accept it, because a lot more people want to help you than you realize.”