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Student Stories

Student Stories: Making the Leap

Making life-changing decisions can be daunting, but for junior Naylee Nagda it’s in her DNA. As a high schooler, Naylee made the bold move from Kenya to the United States to pursue her undergraduate studies at USC. Her path, in some ways, is a continuation of her ancestors’ journey from India to Kenya, a story which Naylee captured in her interactive website, Journey of My Ancestors, for which she’ll be honored tonight at the 27th Annual Academic Honors Convocation. Naylee will receive the Phi Kappa Phi Student Recognition Award.

“I’m a fourth-generation Kenyan but I’m ethnically Indian,” said Naylee. “Many people find it fascinating that Indians ended up in Africa and this website answers the questions I get asked a lot. It tells the story of how my ancestors migrated from India to Kenya.”



Naylee stumbled upon the Academy by accident while perusing majors offered by USC. One bold decision followed another when Naylee decided to apply for a new, first-of-its-kind major in Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation.

“When I found the Academy, I knew it was exactly the program I wanted to do,” said Naylee. “All my life I’ve had varied interests. I was interested in healthcare, created fine art and pursued sports professionally. The Academy gives me the chance to pursue my passion for learning across disciplines rather than having to narrow my knowledge and perspective in one industry.”

In addition to working with a cancer research lab on campus, Naylee is also learning how to use Arduino, an open source electronic prototyping platform for computer electronics, and building interactive websites such as the Journey of My Ancestors. Here, Naylee shares a glimpse into how she decides to make leaps into the unknown...

Q: You’re still quite young, but have made some pretty big decisions. What’s your decision-making process like?
A: I always try and imagine how different my life would be if I embarked on these paths. I ask myself whether it would open up possibilities that I would otherwise not have access to. If they do, I take the leap. As scary as new decisions may be, I always remind myself that I would not be where I am today if I was not willing to take that leap. I understand, however, these decisions may not be as easy for everyone. One of the reasons as to why I am open to taking 180 degree turns in my life is because I’m someone who gets bored easily and so I am open to embracing new situations and new experiences which makes my journey exciting as opposed to scary.

Q: Change can be daunting for many.  What advice do you have for people when grappling with change in their lives?
A: Honestly, make a pros and cons list. It makes it much easier to remind yourself why you made a particular decision when change happens. One problem I used to have was always looking back and wondering what it would be like if I’d picked an alternate decision. Should I have stayed home in my comfortable life in Kenya versus going to boarding school? Should I have picked a traditional career path? Constantly wondering about irreversible decisions is mentally draining. During these times, I would say to trust yourself and look ahead. There is a reason why everything happens.

Q: Any notable differences and/or similarities between people at home and here at school?
There are many differences and it's taken me a while to get used to it. In the US, people ask more questions and tend to challenge opinions. At home, we challenge authority a lot less, hence we are more traditional. There is a strong sense of community in Africa, so our opinions are formed by looking at its effect on the entire community.  In the US, people seem to prioritize the individual more.  Also, in Africa, we are used to being multicultural, adapting different foods, mannerisms and sayings across cultures, whereas in the US, there are really strict lines.

Any inspirational quotes you live by? 
Great things never come from comfort zones.

Thank you, Naylee!