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Humans of New York Instagram Post Pays Tribute to a Mentor

When Purchase was forced to cancel the in-person 2020 commencement ceremony last May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one graduate was particularly disappointed.

Solangie Ledesma '20 Solangie Ledesma ’20
Not only would Solangie Anulsa Ledesma ’20 (liberal studies) miss out on crossing the stage to collect the diploma she earned 23 years after she first attended Purchase, she had hoped to invite the high school administrator who greatly influenced her life back in the 90s.

In 1997, Ledesma’s assistant principal, Ms. Effinger, called the Purchase admissions office on her behalf and even drove her to visit. Although Ledesma was dismissed for poor academic performance after her first year, Effinger’s influence left a lasting impression and changed the course of her life.

Still hoping to find a way to thank Ms. Effinger publicly, Ledesma responded to a request from the founder of the popular Humans of NY Instagram account; he asked people to submit their stories via email, since he could no longer approach people in person. “I wanted to find a way to honor her and also inspire other people to believe in students like myself from disadvantaged neighborhoods,” she says. “I also wanted to show people that there are so many ways you can turn a mistake into a lesson that makes you stronger.”

Ledesma is a passionate storyteller who routinely shares her own story to inspire others. About five years after she was dismissed from Purchase, she reached out to Paul Nicholson, then director of special programs, to ask if she could speak to new EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) students.

“I asked him if I could come speak to the incoming freshmen about my experience, how it affected me, and how I could have made better choices,” she says. “Paul was shocked. He told me only graduates come back. No one who didn’t finish ever came back to speak with the students.”

She told Nicholson that she thought a different perspective may have an impact as well. “If other students learned from my mistakes, they could make better choices in their lives. And I learned that there is power in telling your story.”

Years later, she’s still speaking to new EOP students. “There is always a line of students wanting to talk with me after I speak. Some are in tears. They tell me how much they needed to hear my story. Some say family members have given them similar advice, but something about the way I shared my story resonated and inspired them.”

After a couple years of returning to speak with the EOP students, Mary Garcia, EOP counselor, invited Ledesma to continue her studies. “Mary invited me to come back so that I could finish my degree and change the end of my story.”

Ledesma returned to Purchase as a student in 2015, taking classes at night to complete her degree. “It seems surreal. As a full-time mom of kids who played travel sports, full-time wife, and full-time manager, I’m not sure how I got it done,” she says.

She shares some wisdom for those who might want to finish their own degrees. “My advice is: life is short. There is nothing more meaningful than doing everything in your power to pursue your dreams. You don’t want to look back and have regrets. Proceed and be bold with it, because fear is a liar.”