September 30, 2022

Young woman finds a friendship with God on her yearlong journey to her dream

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks on Sept. 21 with the four members of the Missionaries of Charity who minister in Indianapolis after celebrating Mass for them in the chapel of their Our Lady of Peace Convent. The sister are, from left, Sister Emerita, Sister Paulinus, Sister Janita and Sister Kiron Jyoti. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Silvia “Niky” Quezada gives credit to God for helping her find a home at Marian University in Indianapolis, where she is pursuing her goals of playing soccer and earning a degree in engineering. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

15th in an occasional series
 

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion is featuring young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)
 

By John Shaughnessy

As her tears start to flow, 18-year-old Silvia “Niky” Quezada pauses from a conversation to wipe them from her cheeks.

She began crying as she talked generally about the challenges she has faced, leaving one to wonder if her tears are related to some of the difficult transitions that affect many young people in their first semester in college:

Being away from family and friends.

Trying to find your place in a new environment and a new stage in life.

Searching for the bonds and the friendships that can lift you and sustain you in the present and the future.

Yet as she wipes the tears from her cheeks, Niky insists they are not tied to any struggles. Instead, the first-year student at Marian University in Indianapolis says, “I’m not sad or anything. These are happy tears. I think I cry more with happy tears than sad tears actually. It’s still a little unbelievable for me—to have experienced everything, to look back on everything. God is amazing.

“I feel like he’s a father to me. I was listening to a podcast last night, and it was about how God has your back. I felt a lot of connection there because everything I did was like I walked blindfolded with faith. So I think my connection with him is very clear—trusting in him in whatever I do.”

That trust in God has led Niky on the defining journey of her young life. It’s a journey in which she left her family in Mexico when she was 17, and came to the United States by herself before her senior year in high school, all to pursue a dream—a dream she is now living.

‘I definitely felt God was with me’

In the spring of 2021, Niky had already decided, with her parents’ blessing, that she would leave home to attend her senior year of high school in the United States—a decision based on the belief that the educational system in America is stronger than the one in Mexico.

With her father being an engineer, Niky was attracted to that field, too, wanting to make a contribution to society by helping find solutions to problems that involve the environment.

As someone who has played soccer at a high level since she was 6, she also dreamed of playing the sport in college.

Arriving in Florida where she lived for a brief time with an aunt, she connected with a club team whose coach set her up with a situation where she could live her senior year with a host family.

As the oldest of four children in her own family, Niky enjoyed living with the host family, which also had four children. She especially appreciated that she shared similar values and a Christian faith with the family.

“I definitely felt God was with me,” she recalls. “Everything was placed incredibly beautiful. I found a host family. I found a coach. My grades were good, and things were going well with the club team. Everything started lining up. I ended up walking to the little path God was creating for me.”

But after a few months, the first major challenge of her year arose.

“My parents called and said, ‘We just got a call from the host family.’ They were having personal issues and they weren’t going to be able to have other individuals in the house. I didn’t panic. It was. ‘How can I deal with this? How can I solve this?’ ”

Niky once again leaned on her faith, asking God for help. She shared the news with her high school soccer coach, confiding that if she didn’t find another host family to live with, she’d have to return to Mexico. Niky was stunned by her coach’s reaction.

“She opened up her home to me,” Niky recalls. “She said, ‘I have a room for you, as long as the school is notified about this.’ She had experience in that school for 30 years. Her reputation is amazing. Everyone respects her. She also had lost her husband about two years ago. It was an opportunity to be there for each other.”

Niky believed that God’s providence was with her again. That conviction grew with another turning point that stunned her and had her crying tears of joy.

‘I can’t believe this!’

In early January of this year, Niky was playing in a soccer showcase in Florida, a national tournament that drew the interest of college coaches from across the country, including Justin Sullivan, the head coach of the women’s soccer team at Marian University.

Niky was one of the players who caught Sullivan’s attention so he sent an e-mail to her to express his interest in the possibility of her coming to play at Marian.

“At first, I was like, ‘Marian University, where is that?’ ” Niky says.

She became intrigued by Marian, which was also in the process of enrolling its first class of students for its new engineering program that was scheduled to start in the 2022-23 school year.

Still, there is a big difference in a coach’s interest and a coach’s firm offer, and by February Niky knew that many of her teammates on her club team had already committed to play at a college.

“I felt pressure that my time was running out, that maybe God wanted me to go back home,” Niky said. “But no, he had perfect timing with this, too.”

On a February day, Sullivan and the dean of Marian’s engineering program, Binh Tran, contacted Niky in a Zoom call. During the conversation, they offered Niky a full scholarship to attend Marian and become a part of its first engineering class.

“My reaction at first was, ‘I can’t believe this! It’s actually happening!’ ” Niky recalls.

“For me, this has definitely been a spiritual year. Since I left home, every little step I took, I was like, ‘Look, I’ll just let God do his job.’ I kept doing the right things. When it suddenly came, I finished the Zoom call, and I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t believe what had happened. It was a miracle for me.”

In recruiting Niky, Sullivan noticed the “flair” and the “performance-character” of her game. Getting to know her better since she arrived on campus, three other qualities stand out to the head coach.

“She exudes confidence, not just from a soccer perspective but her personality,” Sullivan says. “With that confidence, there’s a lot of independence that she has. Most of all, she has a drive to achieve, whether it’s in academics, trying to make the world a better place through engineering or in the game she loves. She wants to get better.”

Her decision to attend Marian was also exactly part of the vision that the university wants to achieve with its E. S. Witchger School of Engineering.

“I heard from Coach Sullivan about her story and her journey to come to the United States,” says Tran, Marian’s engineering dean. “Her drive to succeed, her academic quality and her immigrant story stood out.

“Only about 20 to 25% of the engineering degrees that are awarded are to women, who make up 50% of the population of this country. Her story embodies what we’re trying to do at Marian University—to provide access to populations that are underserved in engineering.”

‘I always felt God had my back’

Niky’s first two months at Marian have been typical of many first-semester college students—times of transition, times of fun, times of fitting in, times of trying to connect, times of humility, times of joy.

“I can say socially it’s been very fun to meet a diversity of people,” she says. “I think the transition of coming here, I feel I’m adapting pretty well. But learning how to be intentional with the different groups is important for me. For now, I want to be intentional to bonding with my soccer team as a freshman. I have a lot of friends. I like meeting a lot of people on campus.”

Playing soccer at Marian didn’t start the way she wanted because she was injured early. Still her face glows when she talks about the success of the senior-dominated team, sharing how it is one of the top teams in its college division. As with any athlete, she desperately wants to play more. At the same time, she’s willing to do whatever she is asked to help her team.

And the lessons of the past year are always with her, guiding her through the good times and the tough times. One of the best lessons she has learned is that God has always put people in her path to guide her, to walk with her, to be there for her, to let her be there for them.

That belief leads her to think of another person who touched her life during her whirlwind past year—a fellow high school senior in Florida.

“She was a big role model for me. Such a beautiful person, close to God. Her values came through in everything she did.

“It made me feel like I want to be like her. If anyone else has a challenge, I want to be there for them. She also appreciated me. We ended up having a beautiful friendship.”

The past year has also confirmed for Niky that she has a friend in God.

“I would wake up every morning and take a walk and have a conversation with God. Every night, it would be listening to music and talking to God. I had ups and downs, but his presence was very constant in our conversations.”

Her tears start to flow again.

“I would tell him I was afraid of things that could go wrong. I would tell him that I trust in him. I would ask him to help me, that I would need his strength.

“I always felt God had my back every time.” †

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