Graduating from college was always a dream for Malika Pegues. The CUNY Queens College Chapter President was first featured in our September Members in the News and again in our 2021 Year in Review for being the first recipient of the Kathleen Mullally Foundation Scholarship.
The $1,000 scholarship goes to pregnant students or students with children seeking to continue their education. She did so while also working two jobs: One as a team leader of crisis counselors at Project Hope, and another as an organizer of recreation programs for children with learning disabilities.
The always positive, outgoing, ambitious student understands how leadership is a two-way street, and that to lead means to also make a positive impact.
Before she went back to school, she lived in a women's shelter with her children for a time and still donated a portion of her scholarship money to charity. This embodies everything we stand for at the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS).
She says, "In my opinion, the greatest leaders are the ones who are the most empathetic."
The Right Attitude Will Take You a Long Way
All leaders face obstacles. It's how you adjust to them that matters. Malika has faced no shortage of obstacles and says having a good attitude is what always keeps her going.
"Graduating with my bachelor's degree was such a tiresome but rewarding journey. I knew that I would have several barriers due to my personal circumstances and the pandemic. All I had to do was be organized and form a structure for myself and my family."
As difficult as things may seem, the very difficulty you face is a reminder that you're taking steps in the right direction. Nothing should ever diminish your drive. Malika understands this truth and sees the challenge as a fun aspect of her pursuit.
"I mentally prepared myself and took self-care days when needed. I relied on my community for support, planned ahead, and lived by my schedules. Most importantly, I made my experience fun. I found the good in everything I did. I made friends and I enjoyed friendly competition."
Competition can be a scary thing, especially for students just starting out in their careers. In a capitalistic society, competition is deeply ingrained. To see the fun in it and approach it like a friendly challenge illuminates the importance of always having a positive attitude.
Besides having a positive attitude, Malika believes pairing her passion with work has also had a positive impact on her success.
"I was very passionate about my area of concentration. Studying was not a burden because I enjoyed the topics."
When talking about the key ways she set out to achieve her goals, she touched on something important: being friendly to others.
"I was compassionate toward my classmates and professors. Eventually, I made many friends and was offered many opportunities to advance in my academic journey. Most importantly, I was professional. I showed up to my classes and did what I needed to do, and my work spoke for itself."
Empathy, gratitude, and developing relationships is vital in continuing to move in the right direction. It's more than just networking; it's about building trust, real friendships, and a support system that’s there for you every day.
Malika's Advice for Future Leaders
When asked about what words of wisdom she would impart on fellow members, she used a metaphor to drive home the point of never losing momentum.
"I always use a marathon to describe my endeavors. You need strategy and endurance. The race is going to be long and challenging, so you need to pace yourself. Sometimes, the terrain and weather may become abrasive and you'll feel like giving up. No matter what you do, if you have to crawl to the finish line, at least you’re still moving toward the goal. I always remind myself, it's not about how fast you get there, it's just about getting there."
This idea of forward movement no matter what continually comes up in leadership discussions. Anyone with a dream, a plan, and a goal must always remind themselves of this and continue to push forward, regardless of the obstacles.
She also reiterated the importance of empathy and how servant leadership is a great way of leading others.
"To be a leader, you have to be confident, compassionate, and proactive. There are so many ways that you can demonstrate leadership skills. It's always about the people being served. The first step is to identify the individuals that need help."
A leader she looks up to is Maya Angelou, someone whose poetry always soars with empathy.
"I was empowered by her many books of poetry. She was a civil rights activist that revolutionized our culture. I was raised by her literature and I was inspired by her words."
The many obstacles Angelou faced are also something Malika could relate to as she navigates her own dreams. Though she'll achieve her lifetime goal of graduating college, she's doubling down on education as a way to access an even better life.
"I’m currently finishing my last semester in the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies undergraduate program. I plan to pursue a masters in the School Psychology program immediately after. Ultimately, I intend on enrolling in a clinical psychology doctoral program."
With passion for her subject matter and all the leadership tools she's already displayed, she's on a path to making real change.
"[Leadership] is about making a difference in the world and finding ways to make a positive impact in the lives of others."
Read about another NSLS member who used education to achieve a better life. Vincent Thompson's journey from prison inmate to doctoral student at one of the country's top universities is an inspiring story of how to never give up and never stop learning.