Wendy Y. Estrella, Esq., ’97, a Lawrence, MA lawyer, offers keynote address at Girard School’s annual Sigma Iota Epsilon induction ceremony
Having emigrated to the US at age 13, Estrella spoke to the newest honor society inductees about taking advantage of opportunities, being persistent in following your dreams, and giving back to your community.
When Wendy Estrella ’97, a lawyer in Lawrence, MA, stood up to deliver the keynote speech at this spring’s Sigma Iota Epsilon honor society induction ceremony, she wasn’t sure she would connect with the students. She knows her story is inspirational but it is not traditional and she wasn’t sure it would resonate with the audience.
“The students’ reaction to my speech came as a surprise,” says Estrella. “It was a wonderful feeling to have them come over after the ceremony and even congratulate me as they came up on stage.”
She came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 13, not knowing any English. She went on to graduate from Lawrence High School in 1990 and then attended college at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, leaving after just one year. Wendy married her high school sweetheart, Jose Estrella, at age 18 and started a family shortly after. She completed her associate’s degree at Northern Essex Community College and then obtained a scholarship to Merrimack, where she finished a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1997, concentrating in accounting and management. She started her career as an accountant at Fidelity Investments and then at Gillette, but had dreamed as a child in the Dominican Republic of becoming a lawyer. So, she went to the Massachusetts School of Law and graduated in 2004. She now owns a law practice specializing in real estate and landlord tenant law.
In her speech to the newest members of Sigma Iota Epsilon (SIE), Estrella acknowledged that her story, although inspirational, is not unique. “Today, ladies and gentlemen, I am living the American dream, thanks to this wonderful country of opportunities,” she said.
SIE is the national honorary and professional management fraternity, and this year 87 graduate and undergraduate Girard School students were inducted at the March 26th ceremony. Estrella spoke to the new members and their families, and used her life story to offer three pieces of advice:
Take any and all opportunity offered to you because you will never know the outcome unless you take it.
She told of her participation in Accept the Challenge, Merrimack College’s long-running partnership and scholarship program with Lawrence High School.
“Accept the Challenge changed my life, and I owe it to Merrimack College. Through my participation in the program, I was able to obtain a full scholarship to Merrimack to finish my bachelor’s degree. And it all happened because I accepted the challenge to succeed. It’s opportunities like this that you’ll never know how it will change your life forever unless you take them. Who would have guessed that by accepting an invitation to participate in a program when I was only 15 would have given me the opportunity of a lifetime?”
Never give up on your dreams.
She admitted she had to overcome anxiety and persist in the face of uncertainty. “I had many fears of failure and feeling lost. Coming to a new country was difficult and very scary. Going to school at the beginning was no easy task, as I feared every day of being rejected. However, I never stopped dreaming of one day becoming someone, and I followed that intuition and continue to do so today,” she said.
Always remember where you came from.
Estrella remains loyal to Lawrence, MA, having served as a board member of the Lawrence Partnership, the Boys and Girls Club, and The Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board and as a trustee of Northern Essex Community College and Massachusetts School of Law.
“Give back to your community,” she told her audience. “The better your community does, the more it can provide to you and others. Today, I serve on many boards where my presence can make a difference as a female Latina.”
The diversity she observed as a Merrimack student 20 years ago remains a strong feature of the college, she said after her speech. “The students were pretty diverse in terms of age and ethnicity,” she says. “That’s the reason I believe they connected well with my story.”
Estrella is glad to reconnect with the college. “Merrimack College was and continues to be a special school for me. The classrooms were small enough that every teacher felt like a mentor to me,” she says.
“Being at Merrimack felt like being part of a community – not to mention the school’s value. The school stands for a unique education with grounded spiritual values. It cares about its students’ future, and it prepares you to compete with others in the workforce. I obtained my first job opportunity through Merrimack College. I will never forget that.”