INDIANAPOLIS — When 18-year-old Silvia “Niky” Quezada talked about what she has been through recently, she couldn’t help crying.
Yet as she wiped the tears away, the freshman at Marian University in Indianapolis said: “I’m not sad or anything. These are happy tears … to have experienced everything, to look back on everything. God is amazing.”
She said that she has often walked blindfolded with faith and simply trusted God.
That trust in God has led Quezada on the defining journey of her young life. She left her family in Mexico when she was 17 and came to the United States by herself before her senior year in high school, all to pursue a dream that she is now living.
In the spring of 2021, Quezada had already decided, with her parents’ blessing, that she would leave home to attend her senior year of high school in the United States at a better school.
Quezada’s father is an engineer and she was attracted to that field, too. And as someone who has played soccer at a high level since she was 6, she also dreamed of playing the sport in college.
Arriving in Florida where she lived for a brief time with an aunt, she connected with a club team whose coach set her up with a situation where she could live her senior year with a host family.
“I definitely felt God was with me,” she told The Criterion, archdiocesan newspaper of Indianapolis. “Everything was placed incredibly beautiful. I found a host family. I found a coach. My grades were good, and things were going well with the club team.”
But after a few months, she faced the first major challenge of her year when her parents called to tell her the host family was having personal issues and she could no longer stay there.
Quezada said she didn’t panic but leaned on her faith, asking God for help. She shared the news with her high school soccer coach, confiding that if she didn’t find another host family to live with, she’d have to return to Mexico.
She was stunned by her coach’s reaction.
“She opened up her home to me,” Quezada recalled. “She said, ‘I have a room for you, as long as the school is notified about this.’ She had experience in that school for 30 years. Her reputation is amazing. Everyone respects her. She also had lost her husband about two years ago. It was an opportunity to be there for each other.”
This January, Quezada was playing in a soccer showcase in Florida, a national tournament that drew the interest of college coaches from across the country, including Justin Sullivan, the head coach of the women’s soccer team at Marian University.
Sullivan contacted Quezada about the possibility of her coming to play at Marian.
“At first, I was like, ‘Marian University, where is that?'” Quezada said.
She became intrigued by Marian, which also was in the process of enrolling its first class of students for its new engineering program scheduled to start in the 2022-23 school year.
Still, there is a big difference in a coach’s interest and a coach’s firm offer, and by February Quezada knew that many of her teammates on her club team had already committed to play at a college.
But later that month, Sullivan and the dean of Marian’s engineering program, Binh Tran, contacted Quezada in a Zoom call. During the conversation, they offered Quezada a full scholarship to attend Marian and become a part of its first engineering class.
“My reaction at first was: ‘I can’t believe this! It’s actually happening!'” she said, describing it as a miracle.
In recruiting Quezada, Sullivan noticed the “flair” and the “performance-character” of her game. Getting to know her better since she arrived on campus, the head coach said she exudes confidence and has a drive to succeed.
Her decision to attend Marian also was exactly part of the vision that the university wants to achieve with its E.S. Witchger School of Engineering.
“I heard from Coach Sullivan about her story and her journey to come to the United States,” said Tran, Marian’s engineering dean, who noted that Quezada’s drive, academic quality and immigrant story stood out.
“Only about 20 to 25% of the engineering degrees that are awarded are to women, who make up 50% of the population of this country,” he said. “Her story embodies what we’re trying to do at Marian University — to provide access to populations that are underserved in engineering.”
Playing soccer at Marian didn’t start the way Quezada wanted because she was injured early. Still her face glowed when she talked about the success of the senior-dominated team, sharing how it is one of the top teams in its college division.
As with any athlete, she desperately wants to play more. At the same time, she’s willing to do whatever she is asked to help her team.
And the lessons of the past year are always with her, guiding her through good times and challenges. One of the best lessons she has learned is that God has always put people in her path to guide her and walk with her.
The past year has also confirmed for Quezada that she has a friend in God.
“I would wake up every morning and take a walk and have a conversation with God,” she said. “Every night, it would be listening to music and talking to God. I had ups and downs, but his presence was very constant in our conversations.”
As she put it: “I always felt God had my back every time.”
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Shaughnessy is assistant editor at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.