Tongan student receives top award at California State University

A Tongan student girl was chosen among 2,100 graduates who were invited to take part in California State University, Northridge’s Honours Convocation on Saturday, May 13.

Angelina Finau was one of the only six individuals to be honoured with special recognition as outstanding graduating students.

They will be awarded with this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top award given to a graduating senior.

“ It is presented each year in memory of CSUN’s first vice president, Leo Wolfson. Not only must the student have an exceptional academic record, but he or she must also have made significant contributions to CSUN or to the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities”.

“I’m still processing the fact that I’m getting this amazing honor,” said Finau, 21, of Van Nuys, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in political science in two weeks.

“I can’t believe that this girl whose family comes from these little islands in the Pacific, Tonga, that nobody has ever heard of — I’m nobody special — is getting this award.”

Finau has helped find ways to improve the university’s graduation rates while working in CSUN’s Office of Student Success Innovations; researched water conservation habits of Los Angeles renters; explored ways to improve the performance of students in general education classes; appeared as the lead witch in a production of “Macbeth;” and spent a semester in Washington, D.C., where she got to shake hands with former President Barack Obama as CSUN’s Panetta Congressional Intern.

In addition to all of that, she has maintained a 3.9 GPA and volunteers as a student judge and coach for her former high school’s speech and debate team, and at New Horizons, a nonprofit that works with persons with disabilities.

“I’ve gotten to do so many things, I have been so blessed,” Finau said. “I remember being in Washington, D.C., on the steps [of the Lincoln Memorial] and thinking, ‘How is this possible for a girl from a little island that nobody has heard of?’ It was because of CSUN.

If you have that burning desire to do something, it’s possible, but you’ve got to seize the opportunities, and you have to have people to believe in you. The people here at CSUN believed in me.”

Finau, whose parents emigrated from Tonga in the 1980s, said she also found support from her family — in particular, her older sister, who has disabilities.

“She reminds me what it means to be kind, even when you’re really stressed out,” she said. “And she reminds me that, even if it is my worst day, I am doing something positive for the community.”

Finau said her time as a Panetta intern in the fall of 2015 helped her focus on what she wants to do with her life.

“What I learned was that no matter what talents you have, it is your civic duty to give back and change as many lives a possible,” she said.

To that end, Finau plans to attend graduate school in the fall, “because knowledge gives you the power and increases the resources you have to make a difference in people’s lives,” and eventually go to law school, she said.

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