The true meaning of being a star

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UNO student wants to help others, because so many have helped her along the way.

Many nights when she was little, Monica Mondragon would look up at the stars and say a prayer.

“I’d asked God why I didn’t have money to give to my mom so she could stop working so much and be with me instead.”

Her mom, who worked two factory jobs back then, would make tortillas that were warm and delicious. Monica and her siblings would eat them with salt. Those tortillas were their “life-saver,” Monica says, on those nights when they otherwise would have gone to bed hungry.

“My mom – whenever she didn’t have enough food to feed us, she would always encourage us to eat the little we had. I can remember being eight or nine, and I would say, ‘Mom, here. Have some.’

“She would look at me and say, ‘No, you eat. When you’re older you need to grow strong and change the world and go to school.’

“So I said, ‘OK, well, I will be a superhero.

“And she said that I would touch the hearts of everybody.”

Monica and her family bounced from house to house when she was little. She saw kind social workers in action, who helped Monica’s family survive and eventually thrive. She thinks that’s why she decided to study social work at UNO. She’s now a graduate student there, hoping to become a therapist and work with elderly people and with veterans who have post-traumatic stress.

She wants to help people because people have helped her along the way – even people she has never met.

Monica, who’s now a UNO grad student, is a recipient of the Jessica Lutton Bedient Memorial Scholarship/Fellowship Fund.

Monica sits in a new green chair in the new Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center at UNO in front of a video camera, happy to tell her story and to talk about Jessica and about how grateful she is to her and to her family and to the donors who created the scholarship in Jessica’s name.

Although Monica never met Jessica, she knows a lot about her – that she helped raise money to build this building in her role as a fundraiser at the University of Nebraska Foundation, that she cared about disadvantaged people like her and her family with a passion, and that she was killed by a drunk driver in Omaha four years ago when she was just 26, a few weeks after her wedding.

Monica knows that Jessica touched the hearts of everybody she met with her smile and kindness and desire to help people. That she was a superhero that way.

One of life’s true stars.

A few minutes before the interview, without knowing the video camera was following her – Monica walked in the front doors of this building for the first time and saw a photo of Jessica on the wall.

She read the silver letters:

Jess’ Resource Center.

It’s a wall dedicated to Jessica. The wall includes computer monitors that help UNO students find opportunities in the community to help people. Monica stood in silence for a while, looking up at the photo of Jessica.

And she said a prayer of gratitude.

Student Support is a priority of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. Since it began in 2005, the campaign has raised more than $198 million for UNO and has created 627 new funds, including 269 for student support. If you also would like to help, please consider giving online or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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