“Opportunities in life should be based on merit and effort, not luck.”
Sonia Parisi, a BA (Hons) 1999 and LLB (Hons) 2001 alumna, daughter of Italian migrant parents, gives some ‘luck’ to future Monash students.
Sonia’s family migrated to Melbourne from regional Italy after the Second World War in search of a better life. They brought with them a strong work ethic, and a love for learning, which encouraged Sonia and her sister to excel from an early age. A lover of books and an avid reader, Sonia spent her childhood during the 80s in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne in Oakleigh – home to a rich and vibrant community of Italian and Greek migrant families.
Even before she attended Monash, Sonia saw the University as a tradition in her family. It was not only the institution where her elder sister Tania attended Pharmacy College, but also a regular feature and part of the scenery of many of her childhood and adolescent experiences.
“I did childhood dancing concerts at the Alex Theatre. I had my high school speech nights at Robert Blackwood Hall. I learnt to drive in the gravel carpark when there still was one. It’s just been part of my life forever – the monolithic Menzies Building has just been the backdrop of my life.”
By the time Sonia made it to Monash as a student, she had completed more schooling than both her parents combined. Attending Monash was “genuinely transformative, and it has that history and legacy of transforming lives for people from so many communities”.
Being involved with many different Monash clubs and societies, Sonia was exposed to “the cross-pollination of ideas” that had been lacking in her school life. It was “the opportunity to think and do things differently” and to meet many new people with different perspectives that Sonia found so exhilarating.
Today, Sonia can trace many enduring friendships to her years at Monash, and she maintains a close connection with Monash by volunteering as a director at the Springvale-Monash Legal Service.
But Sonia has not forgotten that it was her family and its support which propelled her to university more than 25 years ago. She is creating a family legacy at Monash by leaving a bequest for a scholarship for individuals who come from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. The Di Petta Parisi Scholarship will be established in honour of her parents and maternal grandparents through a gift in her Will.
Academic excellence and merit
There is power in example. Sonia recognises that the lack of migrant representation in the media makes it harder for people to see the possibilities that they can achieve. In the 80s, “when I was a child and Romper Room – a children's television series – was on, they would hold up a mirror, and call out the names of children they could 'see'. There was never a Sonia. Ever.”
Two of Sonia’s many passions are visibility and diversity, as she believes that they drive larger conversations, but also enrich learning and the Victorian community:
“People from CALD communities need to see their own communities faces and achievements. And we are stronger as a community when we embrace diversity and the richness of the many cultures, language groups and faiths that make Melbourne and Victoria the wonderful places that they are".
Sonia believes academic excellence and merit should guide success – not economic standing or genetic luck: “I think deeply that one's opportunity in life shouldn’t be limited by the family you are born into, or the socioeconomic status and opportunities that your family has. Rather, your opportunities should be based on your effort and merit. And merit should be about your intellectual ability, initiative and commitment – not your bank balance.”
Leaving a legacy
Sonia decided to leave a bequest to Monash because of the change that it made in her life for the better, and for graduates from other migrant communities: “To me, Monash felt like it was an ivy league institution for migrant families, who lived in the nearby suburbs, worked in the local factories, and aspired to a better life for their children through education."
Working with the Planned Giving team at Monash, Sonia is planning a scholarship that will inspire and empower students who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to fulfil their academic potential: “I want the Di Petta Parisi Scholarship to be something that is about excellence. It’s about quality. It’s about success. And I want whoever receives this legacy and this bequest to have their lives transformed – the way that me going to Monash has transformed mine.”
“My view is that there’s always room at the top, and that there’s always room for excellence. I know that the Monash qualification I earned stands me in really good stead for my career and life. And in terms of contributing to the community, it’s an example that was set for me early and often by my family. It is very much my view that what you give is actually more important than what you get.”
What will your legacy be?
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