As a child, first-generation LMU student Leilani Medina ’25 watched her parents struggle financially. Both were the victims of unfortunate workplace accidents: her mother, a county employee, was struck by a car, while her father, a firefighter and EMT, blew out his back. Both were forced to work a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet.
Then, in the eighth grade, Medina saw her beloved all-star cheerleading journey come to an abrupt end due to a funding crisis. It was at that moment that the motivation to go to college crystallized inside of her: “I thought, if I just go to college and keep working hard, no matter how much I have to sacrifice, it’ll be worth it in the end if I can take care of the people I love,” Medina said.
Always curious and highly motivated, Medina was drawn to social media, marketing, and content creation at a very young age. An avid follower of brand influencers on Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok, she began attending industry conferences such as VidCon and Playlist Live when she was only 12 years old. In her senior year of high school, she became an intern at Starface, a company that produces decorative medicinal patches for acne, and continues to serve as a college ambassador for them to this day.
Medina chose to attend LMU because of its smaller size and location in Los Angeles, which she saw as a great place to grow her career and her network. Despite the strength and ambition she exhibited as a teenager, however, attending college presented a fresh set of challenges for her. “My freshman year at LMU, I definitely struggled a bit,” she reflected. “I have anxiety, so just being so far away from my home in the Bay Area was stressful.”
Luckily, LMU’s First To Go program was there to provide support. “First To Go is definitely a huge reason that I was able to meet people,” said Medina, who is about to begin her junior year. “We come in two weeks before school starts, we move in early and do a summer retreat, then we live together and take our first-year seminar and rhetorical arts class together. So going into the school year, I had a ready-made cohort, and we were all super close.”
“Don’t let the background that you came from dictate what you’re able to do in the future.“Leilani Medina
Marketing has emerged as Medina’s true passion. She has been accepted into the “M-School” path within the bachelor’s degree of business administration program in marketing, which focuses on creative storytelling, innovation, and strategy. “I definitely want to work in L.A.,” she said. “I see myself going into either the music industry or the beauty industry. I want to be able to manage social media strategy. Public relations and influencer outreach are also really interesting to me.”
Medina cited her First To Go advisor, Alexia Pineda Soto, as an inspirational role model. “She always pushes me to be my best and work as hard as I possibly can, which has been a huge reason that I’ve been able to feel so comfortable at LMU and get involved with different things,” Medina enthused. “She makes me feel like I can take on multiple projects while still taking care of myself and maintaining my mental health.”
In addition to First To Go’s social and academic support networks, Medina has also benefited from an array of scholarships. One that held particular meaning for her was the William M. Crosson Family Endowed Marketing Scholarship, which supports marketing students. Crosson ’77 is a College of Business Administration alumnus; he and wife Liz are also parents to two alumni, including one with a marketing degree. Medina was selected to give a speech at the Class of 1977’s reunion dinner in fall 2022. In her speech, she discussed the “safe space” provided to her by the First To Go program and how they counseled her on common issues faced by first-generation students, such as “impostor syndrome” — the feeling that one does not deserve one’s success.
When Medina saw that she had received the Crosson scholarship, “I felt a huge sense of validation that I belonged at LMU, it wasn’t just luck that got me here and like all of my peers, I deserve to be here.” She concluded her speech by expressing immense gratitude to the Crossons for “providing my family with a huge amount of financial relief and showing that all of my ancestors’ work and struggles were for a reason. I hope one day I will be able to help another student the way the Crosson family helped me.”
When asked if she has any advice for future first-generation students, Medina had this to share: “Don’t let the background that you came from dictate what you’re able to do in the future. It is so possible to overcome the obstacles that life throws at you. You just have to prioritize yourself and your goals, and most important, seek out a community of people who will support you.”