San Hwang will "always be grateful" for Harper

San HwangWhen San Hwang thinks back to applying to colleges, he remembers feeling alienated and hopeless.

Rejection letters weren’t the cause; in fact, Hwang had been accepted by more than one four-year institution. Rather, it was his family’s lack of resources to send him and the know-how to figure out a way.

The Hersey High School graduate, at the time a pretty average student, admits he saw Harper as little more than the affordable option. But two years later, the 20-year-old will challenge anyone who thinks he’d be better off elsewhere.

“I’m certain the quality of the education I received here is just as good if not better than the schools my friends are at,” said Hwang, who now carries a 4.0 GPA and the confidence to dream big. “Harper positioned me to be successful wherever I go and whatever I choose to do. I’ll always be grateful.”

For Hwang, that plan involves transferring to the University of Illinois-Chicago – on nearly a full scholarship – to study accounting.

Hwang is in good company: He’s among more than 3,500 graduates from the Class of 2015-16. Many will proudly cross the stage at the new Outdoor Pavilion during Harper’s 48th annual Commencement Ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 21.

Hwang was six years old when his family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. Though his parents were both professionals back home, they’ve been unable to find skilled positions here and work tirelessly at low-wage jobs.

To pay for school, he worked full time at a grocery store and as a waiter during his first year at Harper. He was unaware of scholarship opportunities until a friend clued him into the Educational Foundation. He applied, and still remembers opening the email informing him two scholarships would cover an entire semester.

“Everything was up to me to figure out because my family just didn’t have that college experience,” Hwang said. “To see that I was getting two scholarships was such a heavy weight lifted for all of us.”

He made the most of the opportunity.

He used his free time to get involved as a Senator in Student Government Association, a peer mentor for Project TAP (Transition Autism Program) and a member of the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa.

He also became an accounting supplemental instructor and vice president of the accounting club, a discipline he discovered he had a talent for with the help of Assistant Professor Dominique Svarc.

After graduating from UIC, Hwang hopes to earn his Master’s in Business Administration, become a Certified Public Accountant and work for one of the Big Four accounting firms. Eventually, he’d like to own his own business. He received the Excellence in the Discipline Award last night at Convocation.

“Professor Svarc showed me the wonders of accounting and everything it has to offer, as lame as that sounds,” Hwang said. “Accounting really grabs my interest, and I’m good at it.”

Svarc has no doubt he’ll succeed and return to Harper one day to share his journey with other budding accountants.

“In addition to academic excellence, San demonstrates initiative and strong leadership skills – attributes that are important in a successful accounting career path,” she said. “His experience makes him stand out on campus as a strong leader and as an advocate for his peers.”

Hwang thinks he’s drawn to accounting largely because of the helplessness he felt two years ago. His family has always struggled to make ends meet, and he wants to break that cycle.

“I like the idea of being financially intelligent,” he said. “My parents took a risk and made such a sacrifice. I want to make sure they get their return on investment.”

Graduates will hear from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who will serve as this year’s commencement speaker. A dedicated community leader for more than two decades, Preckwinkle has worked with the Cook County Board of Commissioners, elected officials and county employees to implement major reform and reshape county government through fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency and accountability, and improved services.

Media contact:  Kim Pohl, Media Relations Manager, 847.925.6159

Last Updated: 3/10/23