My name is Cassandre Joly. I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and came to the United States at the age of eight. I have two older sisters and I was born with a twin, who unfortunately passed away when we were only three months old. I am currently a junior at FIU, majoring in Hospitality Management, and I am the recipient of a full-tuition scholarship that I didn't even qualify for, but I went for anyways.
Over the years, seeking financial assistance for school has been a difficult endeavor, due to my Temporary Protective Status or TPS. TPS is a program that allows immigrants like me to remain in the U.S. temporarily due to ongoing conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary reasons happening in our homeland. However, that did not hinder me from moving forward and seeking opportunities.
My mother was unemployed at the time and my father was in Haiti, working to make ends meet. I often balanced a full-time job and a part-time job while also completing my associate degree at Broward College. I am thankful for the support of both of my sisters Ericka and Taina through the process.
I will never forget the day when I suddenly became serious about my career goals. I was working as a cashier at Taco Bell and a customer was very upset with his order. I immediately realized the error and provided a sincere apology, swiftly corrected the order and provided a complimentary beverage and dessert as an additional gesture.
I gracefully turned the angry customer into a happy one, and fortunately, another special customer (who happened to be in line) observed my service recovery maneuver. He introduced himself as a general manager, opening a new Marriott hotel, and outwardly exclaimed his intention to hire me as a front desk agent on his opening team.
It was not until nearly a year later that the hotel actually opened, and I eventually realized that I had been selected for this team months before anyone else had, including department heads. Being part of this passionate and energetic young management team at the Marriott Harbor Beach in Ft. Lauderdale, inspired me from the start, to pursue a career in the hotel industry. I watched the team's efforts to turn a big, new building into a warm, friendly and hospitable hotel environment. I felt their desire to see this hotel, and consequently themselves, succeed. I proactively learned as much as I could from them, and they slowly increased my responsibilities until I was finally promoted to Front Office Supervisor.
It appears that the Hotel Management career path has chosen me, and I have chosen to embrace it back, despite the setbacks due to COVID-19. Our hotel is getting ready to re-open and I'm so anxious to get back to work to see my Marriott Harbor Beach family and to serve our guests. But even before this pandemic, I knew I could not further my career, without education.
After obtaining my associate in arts degree, I wanted to finish at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at FIU, but I did not have any financial support. When it comes to seeking financial aid to pursue an academic goal, many people like myself, become discouraged and fearful of rejection, but I held to the promises of God and kept the faith.
I came upon TheDream.US National Scholarship and was beyond excited about the amazing opportunity. I noticed on the application that I had to apply to one of their partner colleges and I was so excited to see that FIU was on the list. I quickly applied and after being accepted to FIU Chaplin School, I received an email from my advisor with a reminder to register for classes. I registered for two classes, not realizing that it would make me ineligible for the scholarship. One of the requirements was that applicants must be first time enrollees in a four-year institution, meaning someone who has never taken any classes in a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
I reached out to the organization via phone and email explaining the situation, but unfortunately, I was still considered ineligible. One representative recommended that I still submit my application and wait and see what happens.
The scholarship required me to complete a two-page essay portion on "overcoming adversity" and “educational and career goals.” I shared my story and toward the end of one of the essays, I asked for an appeal as a human who genuinely needed the financial support. Before submitting the application, I prayed about it and left it in God's hands.
Guess what? In April 2020, I received a notification that I had been selected as one of the 2020-2021 TheDream.US National Scholarship recipients. The award covers full tuition. Receiving a full-tuition scholarship award is truly a dream and I feel as if a tremendous burden has been lifted off of my shoulders.
The financial support keeps coming. I just found out I will be receiving a scholarship specifically for hospitality students from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) Foundation through the American Express Fund. I applied for the scholarship, after reading about it on the FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Instagram feed. I wrote an essay, added my accomplishments and now, I'll have another $2,000 towards my education and future in the hospitality field. I am so thankful!
I will continue to motivate others to seek formal education despite undocumented status or any other economic challenges they may be facing. I encourage students to be mindful of social media posts with scholarship information and to take action. I will continue to pursue my career in hospitality because I love this field and know that people will travel and gather together again. So, always pursue your dreams, even if someone tells you that it's not meant to be or you don't qualify. Take it from me, you never know what will happen.