A speech by Liberty La delivered to a crowd of 180 guests at Enterprise for Youth’s annual dinner celebration, Heroes at Work. Liberty was the final of three youth speakers to share their personal stories and how Enterprise’s programs impacted them.
“Enterprise for Youth isn’t just a place where teens and young adults get job experience, it is a family and community made up of unique individuals of all backgrounds dedicated to the growth of one another.”
I believe that I’m a product of the American Dream. My family fled Vietnam in 1978 as refugees from the war with hopes for survival and a brighter future away from violence and terror. They left all they had ever known and sat on a small, cramped fishing boat for 11 days, floating aimlessly in the vast water, awaiting the day that they would finally be able to be free again. Standing here today is proof of their success and determination to not just live, but to succeed. Maybe that is why they named me Liberty.
Throughout my life, with my family story close to my heart, I have always struggled to define success. Was it something physical I could hold in my hand and show to everyone? Was it feeling content? Was it making those around me happy and pleased, and all their sacrifices worthwhile? I didn’t know then, but I know that at this moment, I am closer to my answer than I ever was in the past. And that is because of Enterprise For Youth.
I first joined Enterprise as a sophomore during the spring of 2021. I was sitting on the couch one day when my mother asked me what I was going to do during the summer. Little did I know that one conversation would change the course of my life forever. You see, Enterprise wasn’t a completely new topic in my household. My mom used to be an Enterprise youth herself. She mentioned utilizing the Job Bank to land opportunities such as being a waitress at Christmas parties, or placing stamps in the corners of postcards alongside other youth. Who knew that 28 years later the same organization that helped her would now be helping a newer generation? We were still in the midst of the pandemic and I thought I would just stay home and laze around. But I knew that sitting around at home wouldn’t do me or anybody much good. I also felt that contributing something to society would be a satisfying change. I was especially interested in the Green Careers because reconnecting with nature sounded like a wonderful thing to do after the quarantine period. I was looking forward to it, because at the time, I felt a sense of purpose. I signed up and so began my Enterprise journey.
The process started that spring with Job Readiness Training which helped strengthen my resume as well as my communication skills. After six weeks of training, the internship began in June. I felt very excited because it was one of my first “real” jobs. I was left to manage my schedule, arrive on time, and get my own paychecks. It felt good being treated like a young adult especially when kids my age are so used to being treated like “kids”. That’s kind of ironic honestly, but my point was that this felt like my entrance into adulthood. It felt nice being taken seriously by other adults in my life. I was working in the Fort Mason National Park alongside my team and Job Coach Warren, and this was when my view of community and work started to shift. This was one of the best summers of my life. From the moment I met my group, I knew it was going to be an exciting summer. Each day was filled with laughter, “complaining,” but most importantly cooperation and teamwork. I knew at that moment this was not just a summer internship anymore, but instead, it was something that would change me for life. Utilizing every opportunity that Enterprise offered, I decided to join their Youth Council in the autumn of 2021.
Youth Council was a place for people my age to express their ideas and concerns to people in power. I was tired of being told that I wouldn’t know or understand many things until I grew up. The platform that Enterprise gave us allowed each and every youth councilor to shine to their fullest potential and share their stories each and every time. Being a part of the Youth Council showed me there is not just one right way to inspire people. What matters is being your truest self and always bringing an open mind to every door you walk through.
“The platform that Enterprise gave us allowed each and every youth councilor to shine to their fullest potential and share their stories.”
And so, last summer, for my second internship, I was chosen by Enterprise to work at a student-run organization in UC Berkeley called Helix. Helix Medical is a four-week program that allows students to get first-hand experience in medicine by attending labs, lectures, site visits, and shadowing healthcare professionals. It was a surreal experience especially since doing all these things was such a rare opportunity for a high schooler. I got to be in the ER and see all types of people and learn about different diagnoses. Thanks to Enterprise, I was able to gain experience in all types of conditions and circumstances and frankly, I realized I didn’t want to go into healthcare.
I am now a senior at Wallenberg High School here in San Francisco. In addition to balancing school, work, and Youth Council, I was also nominated by Enterprise and competed for a full-tuition scholarship from the Posse Foundation. It was one of my big dreams to study at an out-of-state university and I went through a three-month-long interview process against 500 other Bay Area youth. It was a very stressful time. In December, my worst fear came true. I was rejected. At that moment, I felt like everything I did was for nothing. I felt disappointed, but more than anything I felt a sense of mourning for the future that I’d seemingly lost. But with the help of my family, close friends, and the Enterprise community, I decided that this rejection doesn’t and never will define me. But let me ask you all one thing.
Does anybody here believe in miracles? Because I sure do now. My future changed again on the night of January 23rd. I got a call from the very same foundation, offering me the very same scholarship. I told them that I needed a day or two to think about it, which might have seemed silly since a lot of people would have said yes immediately. “Why wasn’t I chosen the first time?” It was like an old wound was opening up again, only that this time, it hurt more. I was torn but also so relieved. I knew what it would mean for me and my family if I were to accept this offer. Tonight I would like to share with profound gratitude and pride that thanks to my Enterprise nomination, I will be attending the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington on a full scholarship.
“Success is not just one thing. Instead, it is a process of self discovery and self actualization that continues throughout a lifetime. It is always trying your very best to reach your fullest potential and achieve the highest level of personal growth and development. It isn’t something to prove, nor is it something to please others. It is for each of us to discover and to share with one another.”
This summer, I will be working alongside former Enterprise alum and supervisor Rafael Mandelman at City Hall.
I owe so much of my success to Enterprise For Youth, for it has not only given me such great memories, but Enterprise has changed my life. Throughout my days meeting new people, learning, and simply being accepted for who I am, I have come to realize that success is not just one thing. Instead, it is a process of self-discovery and self-actualization that continues throughout a lifetime. It is always trying your very best to reach your fullest potential and achieve the highest level of personal growth and development. It isn’t something to prove, nor is it something to please others. It is for each of us to discover and to share with one another.
Enterprise for Youth isn’t just a place where teens and young adults get job experience, it is a family and community made up of unique individuals of all backgrounds dedicated to the growth of one another. I thank each and every one of you who is here tonight in honor of this incredible organization. I also wanted to thank Warren Situ, Katherine Kennedy, and Terrence Bei for being great mentors and believing in me along the way. And to my mother, sister, and grandmother who have come out here tonight, and my father who will see this later. I wouldn’t be standing here, telling you this story, my story, if not for all of you. I am so grateful. Thank you.
“I owe so much of my success to Enterprise For Youth, for it has not only given me such great memories, but Enterprise has changed my life.”
Liberty joined Enterprise for Youth in the spring of 2021 as a high school sophomore. After her first summer working with our National Park Services crew at Fort Mason, she has continued to be involved in Enterprise for Youth. As a Youth Council member, Liberty worked on recruitment at her school and helped lead virtual events for other interns. Last summer Liberty interned with Helix Medical Program, learning and participating in observations at Kaiser Permanente across departments.
Liberty will be graduating from Raoul Wallenberg High School this spring and will attend the University of Puget Sound in the fall as a Posse scholar. She will be an intern at City Hall through our Career Experience Internship program this summer.
Thank you to Katherine Kennedy for coaching our youth speakers, and to our youth speakers for sharing their inspiring stories.
By Francis Orkin, Writing Intern at Enterprise for Youth, 2022-2023