SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University on Thursday announced its first-ever student to receive the prestigious Harry S. Truman graduate scholarship, which is for those pursuing careers as public service leaders.

Sandrien “Sandy” Mekany was selected from 199 finalists for the scholarship, an award of up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school studies only given to 62 outstanding college students from 60 institutions in the 2023 class, SDSU said in a press release.

Born in San Diego to Arabic-speaking Chaldean refugees who fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime, Mekany says her experience with struggling to pick up the English language and enduring anti-immigrant hate was a powerful influence on her life path.

“I was too scared to speak up, because who’s going to defend me? I’m a little kid,” Mekany said. “I wanted to meet the idea of what was considered ‘American enough’ in the eyes of my peers and my community.”

In her scholarship application, Mekany said she hopes to “make a true impact on people that were once in my shoes.”

“Sandy’s an incredibly hard-working scholar,” SDSU President Adela de la Torre said. “She is clearly passionate about the issue of educational access and equity, particularly for those whose voices are seldom heard. Her capacity for hard work, for strategy and selflessness of service energizes those around her. She has made history representing SDSU as our first Truman Scholar. We are so fortunate to share in her bright light and accomplishments.”

Mekany is the fourth California State University student to receive the scholarship and the first since 2006, according to education officials.