Megan Saraceni believes a series of “miracles” has allowed her to survive cancer as an infant, to overcome childhood poverty and a dysfunctional home life and to endure the death of two siblings and her father to become Cal State Northridge’s 2009-10 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement recipient.
“Sometimes I wake up and say ‘How did I get here?’ But I know it’s because of miracles and all the people along the way who saw something in me,” Saraceni said. “I want to give back because of all the people who gave so much to me.”
The 26-year-old psychology major and art minor is one of 23 winners of the Hearst award. It provides a $3,000 scholarship to students who have demonstrated financial need, experienced personal hardships and have attributes of merit including superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements. The winners, one from each of the CSU campuses, were honored last month by the CSU Board of Trustees.
President Jolene Koester nominated Saraceni for the award.
“Megan has faced many personal obstacles, yet she continues to uphold a commitment to superior academic success. Megan has emerged as a leader and role model at California State University, Northridge,” said President Koester in her letter of recommendation of Saraceni, who has a 4.0 grade point average.
As an infant, Saraceni was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a tumor of nerve tissue that develops in infants and children. She had to have a kidney removed, a bone marrow transplant and numerous other procedures. Her father left home shortly after her diagnosis, leaving her mother alone with no money to raise three small children, one with cancer and the other two suffering from juvenile diabetes.
Left dependent on a challenged mother, Saraceni was fortunate that a couple that had lost its own child to cancer became her surrogate parents.
“They showed me a life I couldn’t have had without them,” Saraceni said. “They were an early miracle.”
The Albany, New York, native moved to New York City at age 18. She relocated to California with her boyfriend after the tragedy of 9/11, and attended Los Angeles Valley College before coming to CSUN.
“Northridge had such a good reputation and I loved the campus,” said Saraceni about her decision to enroll at CSUN. Since coming to CSUN in 2008, she has been busy.
Saraceni works as a peer educator in the Career Center. She is the publicity director for Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology; she volunteers with Upward Bound and runs a therapeutic art program at a domestic violence shelter. Saraceni has been a peer educator with JADE (Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating) and last year helped raise more than $22,000 for the American Cancer Society as the survivorship chairwoman with CSUN’s Colleges Against Cancer Committee.
“This has been a wonderful experience. So many of my professors and people here on campus have helped me and believed in me. I hope other students take advantage of the opportunities on campus,” said Saraceni, who expects to graduate in May. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Her dual goals are to become a psychologist specializing in art therapy and a CSUN professor, utilizing her talents and life experiences to help others reclaim their lives.