The University of New Mexico has 425 clubs — Giovanna Gong has played a prominent role in several during her time at UNM.
Gong, a first generation college student, will graduate with a degree in international studies with a concentration in peacekeeping and diplomacy, as well as a minor in teaching English as a second language.
Gong said the clubs and organizations on campus she was involved with were a highlight of her college experience, and provided her opportunities to meet new people at UNM.
“When I step into a new community, I want to get as plugged in as possible … and find things where I feel like my talents are served,” Gong said.
She was a part of Something Major A Cappella, the acapella group on campus, for four years. Music was something that initially drew her to UNM while visiting campus for All-State Choir when she was younger.
“I remember coming to UNM and remembering how beautiful the campus was,” Gong said. “I always loved to sing.”
Gong also served for three years as a Residents Advisor for Resident Life and Student Housing and said that it played a large role in her experience at UNM.
“That’s where I met a lot of my friends that I have lifelong bonds with, and all of us decided to be RA’s because we all loved living on campus,” Gong said.
Leon Vigil — a Hall Coordinator when Gong lived at Hokona Hall as an RA — said that her energy is infectious.
“One of the things that I love about Gi Gi most is her energy. She just has this beautiful energy about her and I think it’s contagious,” Vigil said.
Gong and her family migrated to the United States from Hong Kong, China when she was six years old. But, after shes spent most of her life in New Mexico, Gong considers the state her home.
While in high school, Gong also worked at her family's restaurant in Farmington. She said that her education was a priority for her and her family, but her role as the oldest sibling, and first gen student are also an integral part of her identity.
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“My parents always really valued academics over everything for both me and my siblings, but it really was difficult when I was growing up, having to help out at the restaurant and also take care of my siblings, and still focus on school,” Gong said.
Her family ties influenced her to stay in New Mexico for school, Gong said. She started at San Juan Community College and made her way to being a Lobo. She said she wanted to make sure her younger siblings to see her grow and to be a example for them.
Being a part of different communities at UNM allowed Gong to bond with other students, which ultimately helped her get through the pandemic and cope with her mental health in college.
Gong is graduating late due to mental health struggles she had early in the pandemic having dealt with a new situation, the pressure from society and her family because she is considered a non-traditional student. She endured a year of major depression.
“I really struggled keeping up with my academics. I really struggled keeping up with my mental health,” Gong said.
During this time, she said she also learned that she has ADHD and the loss of structure during the pandemic made it difficult.
“I’m not asha22qmed of it. I think it's another great way for me to just be vulnerable with other people because there is a little bit of a stigma about not following a four year plan,” Gong said.
While she said she did have a lot of guilt and shame at first, she learned that everyone's path is different and she learned to work through obstacles.
“I didn't think that I would take so long to graduate from college, but all that matters is that I am graduating and I am making it. I had an extra year at UNM and I really enjoyed it,” Gong said.
Gong also worked with UNM Food for three years. She started as a social media marketing intern and is now the event planner. She said that her involvement on campus — including serving as the 2020 UNM Homecoming Queen — made her become the leader she is today.
“If I had any advice for any incoming students, even first year students, is to find what you're interested in, go to all the club meetings, get involved in organizations, and just take the first step into connecting with a community because I feel like that was a huge part of my success and my enjoyment,” Gong said.
Gong said her future goals consist of working in foreign relations as a service officer and working with local New Mexico non-profit organizations for refugees. For now she wants to stay in the US, but could have a possible future in the Peace Corps.
“I am excited for my family to come to graduation next week and see me walk at graduation. They’re really proud and I’m happy that I made it,” Gong said.
Miyawni Curtis is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MiyawniCurtis
Miyawni Curtis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 news editor. She can be contacted on Twitter @MiyawniCurtis