By Deanna C. White
Many people have probably dreamed about having the courage to change their lives; to step aside from the arc of the usual expectations, take one great leap of faith, and, despite all adversity, build the life they truly want to live.
But San Diego State University (SDSU) accounting graduate Andrey A. Stoyan has actually done it.
In 2008, with only $1,000 to his name, no job prospects, and limited English skills, Stoyan immigrated to the United States from Russia to escape the social intolerance and oppressive discrimination facing individuals in Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Today, just five short years after being granted asylum in the United States, Stoyan has overcome numerous obstacles to achieve his goals. He graduated magna cum laude from SDSU with a degree in accounting. He will begin his career as a full-time audit accountant with BDO in the fall, and he's now eligible to apply for US citizenship.
And this August, Stoyan, who once possessed little more than a dream and his drive to succeed, added another prestigious accomplishment to his resume, when the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) named Stoyan Beta Alpha Psi's 2013 Medal of Inspiration Award winner.
The award, sponsored by the AICPA, is bestowed on a student who has experienced extreme hardships in his or her life and who has demonstrated an unusually high level of success despite that adversity. The award includes a $5,000 cash stipend.
"Andrey's story of overcoming discrimination in his homeland and ultimately realizing his dream of becoming an accountant in the United States is an inspiration to those around the world who find themselves in similar situations", said Jeanne Patton, ACIPA vice president of Academics, Professional Pathways, and Inclusion. "His perseverance, hard work, and dedication to his community made him an ideal choice for the Medal of Inspiration Award."
Stoyan said he's honored by the award and hopes sharing his story will inspire others to never give up on their dreams of living in a world where they never have to be afraid of who they are and achieving a better life through the pursuit of higher education.
"I see many people discouraged by the hardships they face in life, especially when it comes to education, and I really hope my story can inspire someone who faced some adversities in life, be that related to education, economic situation, or mistreatment, abuse, and resentment from society", Stoyan said.
Stoyan's incredible journey began in 2008 when he came to the United States as an exchange student. When he originally came to America, Stoyan said, he had no aspirations to leave his family, his middle-class life, and his nearly completed college degree. But when he realized how much better life could be for him in the United States, he made the life-altering decision to apply for asylum.
In Russia, Stoyan said, as a gay man, he not only had to worry about his physical health and safety "due to the harsh treatment the LGBT community faces", but he also suffered the emotional toll of constantly fearing social and economic discrimination simply for being himself.
"People should not have to live in fear of who they are", Stoyan said. "In America, I realized I do not have to worry every day about discrimination, and without that worry, I can be much more productive. I can be myself and I can achieve many more things. After a few weeks in California, I realized I was not going back."
But while Stoyan immigrated to America to build a better, more prosperous life in the long run, like millions of immigrants who came before him, the challenges he faced every day were overwhelming.
With little money",modest" English, no degree, and a scant support network in his new home, Stoyan took the only job available to him at the time – working part-time in a San Diego restaurant. But he soon realized he was caught in the "vicious cycle" of minimum wage poverty and knew earning a college degree was the only way to achieve his dream.
"I didn't see myself working a job with no future for the rest of my life", Stoyan said. "I realized this was the best time for me to go back to college."
However, there were two problems with that plan: access to higher education and finances. Stoyan's goal was to enroll in the accountancy program at SDSU, but he didn't have a high school diploma or GED and was unable to transfer his Russian transcripts to SDSU to make that happen. He also had no way to afford the tuition.
So Stoyan did what most college students do. He applied for student loans and every scholarship available to him to finance his dream.
"What kept me going was the realization that being in college allowed me to apply for scholarships and take loans so I could actually afford living in the United States", Stoyan said. "I worked the entire time I was in college as well, but I wasn't making enough money to pay for all the necessities. Loans and financial aid literally paid for me to go to college and got me one step closer to becoming an accountant. I was constantly worried, but I knew I was doing it to achieve a better quality of life."
Stoyan found a solution to his academic hurdle as well. To meet SDSU's rigorous admission standards, he studied at a local community college until he was accepted at the university.
Rather than viewing his time at San Diego City College as a delay on his journey, Stoyan says he benefitted from it. Being thoroughly immersed in the community college experience taught him about American culture and academics and helped him improve his English skills. Stoyan said he emerged from community college better prepared for the educational opportunities that awaited him at SDSU.
And it didn't take him long to capitalize on those opportunities. While at SDSU, Stoyan was elected vice president of professional development in the university's Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) chapter, an honors organization for financial information and accounting students and professionals. He interned for KPMG and performed volunteer work on campus and in the local community, in addition to working twenty to thirty hours per week.
Stoyan said joining BAP has been "one of the best decisions he made since coming to the United States." The BAP community provided him with the support network he needed to succeed in college and opened his eyes to all the amazing possibilities a career in public accounting can hold.
Today, Stoyan said, he's eager to begin his career as a CPA; a career he chose because he wants to "go to work every day feeling good about what he's doing."
"I want to become a CPA, because I want to work in a value-based industry. Accountants have to adhere to a strict code of conduct and act ethically. I want to go to work, knowing that I'm not lying or cheating anyone, and I want to have a positive impact on the American economy", Stoyan said.
It's the same way, Stoyan said, he hopes sharing his story will have a positive impact on people.
"During my time in the United States, I've learned that education is the best weapon one could have against being abused or confined to living in poverty. It takes people to places they could never imagine they would go", Stoyan said. "I never could have achieved what I have without going to college and getting help from all the wonderful people who didn't even know me, but wanted me, and all students, to succeed."