So They Say Get A Master’s Degree: 6 Lessons I Learned in Graduate School.


Photo Credit: Dane Shillingford

Boy oh boy! Can you believe it? It has been three and half weeks since I completed my Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Hunter College, The City University of New York.

It is still so surreal that I could call myself a counselor and I can finally say that I am done (for now) with school. For most of my life I never thought about getting an advance degree. Most people in my family only really obtain a four-year degree from a City or State University and everything else is history.

Going to graduate school allowed me to grow and develop as a young professional. It helped me self discover my interests and passions as well uncover my deepest fears. It challenged me to be open-minded about my biases and to appreciate the human condition. It was one of the hardest two years of my life but the reward in the end is sweet.

To those who are debating, beginning or continuing their journey in grad, law or med school, this piece is dedicated to you. There will be moments where you want to cry your eyes out because the pain of trying to stay up all night to finish a final paper becomes excruciating. There will be more sacrifices that you have to make along the way but continue to remind yourself of the end goal. Also, please remember to care for your own mental and emotional well-being because in the end if we ourselves aren’t happy, nothing else that we do in our lives will matter. 

Lesson #1 – You Got The Power!

If I only knew how much power I had as a young person I probably wouldn’t be so fearful of failure in the first place. Upon entering graduate school, one of my biggest fears was being in a classroom filled with students who were much more intelligent than me. I knew I had the knowledge and experience prior to entering into graduate school, however, I still had this fear that I wasn’t going to make it. 

Though my insecurities were valid and understandable, I failed to realize that I had all the power in the world to succeed and that the only person who is stopping me from achieving my dreams is me.

“Grad school helped me see that the only person who is stopping me from achieving my dreams is ME.”

Lesson #2 – Be Real and Your Authentic Self.

I remember always trying to be down with the cause (slang for inclusion or fitting in with the popular crowd) because I wanted to be respected by my fellow peers. But the thing is as you get older, you change, your relationships with other people change and the things you desire most out of life also change. 

In grad school we are taught to be our authentic self and to be sincere because our clients can tell if we are being fake. There are no cliques or set group of people you consistently hang out with when you’re in grad school. You interact with everyone and if a person gives you good vibes you roll with it.

No matter what though, always stay true to yourself and be genuine when doing so. 

Lesson #3 – Resilience. 

I interned at an outpatient chemical dependency treatment program in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a year and a half before completing my degree. The clients there were absolutely amazing. They taught me so much about life and how I can be a more effective counselor.

We would set out goals and objectives for the course of our time together but it always seem as though they would relapse back on their drug of choice. All that hard work and dedication to remain abstinent from drug use all goes down the drain when a client relapses.

My clients will again and again relapse because addiction is a disease but they refuse to give up on themselves and with enough faith and will power they will one day overcome.

“…But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” – Rocky Balboa

 Lesson #4 – You are NOT Alone.

A major reason why I survived graduate school was because of my support system which comprised of my family, friends and classmates. I started grad school having friends who I knew from undergrad and by the time I walked at my commencement ceremony, I realize that they were no longer my friends or people who would be there for me long-term.

Having a good foundation of support makes a big impact on your graduate school journey. You support system helps you get through the rough times especially moments where you feel completely lost and unmotivated. But before I continue with graduate school lesson #5, let me take this moment and thank a few people who were there for me and through their words of encouragement I was able to overcome.

Thank you…

Dad, Rosann Santos, Tiffany Onorato, Monika Son, Bettina Murray, Julie Tran, Vanessa Gyamfi, Landy Familia, Christopher Ng, Kevin Weah, David Jones, Will Simpkins, Chantelle Wright, Gerard Bryant, Laura Diaz, Dayanna Torres, John Calero, Jazmin Letamendi, Alyssa Spano, Kiana Foxx, Dane Shillingford, Renee Toney, Anthony Persuad, Andrew Bandini, Alberto Perez, Jeffery Moss, Uzma Khurshid, Clarie Cornelio, Samantha Sampath, Zenia Alturk, Alla Shapiro, Kevin Mendez, Luis Calvo and Stacey Nelkin. 

…for your love, support and endless words of encouragement because without you I wouldn’t be Melissa S. Kong, MS. Ed

Lesson #5 – Don’t Let Other People’s Fears Influence You.

There will be people who will put a dark cloud over your sunshine. You will have people telling you that you can’t do it and that you are wasting your time studying to become someone who makes less than 65k a year.

If you let other people’s fears cloud your judgement, you will never begin to live your own life. Despite all odds and the challenges lying ahead of you, things will always get better. 

“It’s good to be scared. It means you still have something to lose.” – Dr. Richard Webber

Lesson #6 – Be Willing to Fight for What You Want Out of Your Life.

Many of my learned life lessons began in school. Most of my learning have been in a classroom with dedicated and passionate teachers. I grew more as a person within the last two years of grad school than my four years of undergrad.

If you know what your value and worth is go out and get it and don’t stop until you find it.

There are going to be moments where you want to give up and take the easy road to success but success has no shortcuts. Know that when the going gets tough do not blame other people but try to find your inner strength to overcome the obstacle that is in front of you.


Growth, Love and Laughter: A Photo Collection of My Undergraduate and Graduate School Experiences.

Well you know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. So let’s take this moment to cheers to real love, true happiness and all around great people.

This piece is dedicated to all those who have entered, remained and for some have exit out of my life for good.

These photographs represent my own personal growth and development as a teenager going on to become a young adult. It shows progression as well as it’s a collection of images since I was 18 years old.

All images are open to your own interpretation as they say pictures are worth a thousand words.



Freshman year

GymAids Walk

Aids Walk 2012


Habitat for Humanity (H4H)


Midnight Run

Midnight Run 2012


Peer Ambassador Leadership Program 2012-2013







Peer Ambassador Leadership Program 2013-2014



Bubble Tea & $1.00 Dumplings


UNIQLO Soho Men’s Floor



When Lincoln University Meets The City University of New York


Accepted Students Day @ John Jay College of Criminal Justice


The Power of Mentorship



CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies Class of 2015


Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) Awards Night

Class of 2015

June 3rd, 2015 – Commencement Day, Madison Square Garden


One of the World Greatest Career Counselors, Chantelle K. Wright


Summer 2015 Freshmen Orientation


UNIQLO Soho Men’s Floor Reunited



Mental Health Counselors (CMSU)


When School Counseling Meets Mental Health


Allow me to reintroduce him, Anthony Shiram Persuad-Kong

Jaz and Alyssa and Kiana



When St. Lucia, New York and Guyana Gets Together *happy dance


“The Power of Empowerment” 2016 Peer Ambassador Summer Training



Mel’s Room: 90’s R&B Mixtape.

Music has always been a big part of my life since I was a little girl.

As a ’93 baby I grew up listening to R. Kelly, Whitney Houston and Destiny’s Child.

Today’s heavy hitters are: Drake, J. Cole, Rihanna and Beyoncé just to name a few but as much as I love their music, I still find myself falling back in love with my old school 90’s R&B.

If you love R&B as much as I do take a listen and enjoy some of my favorite 90’s R&B hits.

Girls, Girls, Girls: Top 10 Chick Flicks.


For those who love chick flicks as much as I love chick flicks this piece is dedicated to you. Cheers to a night of good movies, big bowls of popcorn with extra butter with chocolate covered raisins,  endless cups of red wine and gossip with the gals.

  1. Pretty Woman.

    If your favorite Disney princess was Cinderella growing up then make you sure you watch Pretty Woman, the modern day Cinderella story. The film is center around a happy go lucky Hollywood hooker, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), who meets and is hired by Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a wealthy businessman to be his escort for several business and social functions. Their relationship develops over the course of her week long stay with him and little does he realizes he will fall in love with her.

  2. Mean Girls.

    What is a night without a good catfight? Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a 16 year old homeschooled girl recently relocated to the United States with her zoologist parents after living in Africa for several years. She is a hit with the A-list girl clique, The Plastics which is led by queen bee Regina George (Rachel McAdam), rich gal Gretchen Wiener (Lacey Chabert) and sweetheart but airhead Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). She is taken of interest by The Plastics as well as others until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), the ex-boyfriend of alpha female Plastic Regina George.

  3. Legally Blonde.

    Wanna be a lawyer but still be famous (flips hair*) while doing so? Watch the movie Legally Blonde that follows the story of Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a blonde fashion merchandising and sorority queen chase after her Harvard Law boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) after getting dumped by him at dinner. She attempts to win him back by getting a law degree but as she struggles to be taken more seriously by her professors, peers and colleagues she begins to realize that she has more legal savviness than she has ever imagine.

  4. A Cinderella Story.

    In the mood for a happily ever after love story? A Cinderella Story is it! Sam Montgomery (Hilary Duff) is routinely exploited by her wicked step-mother and step-sisters. She becomes internet pen pals with Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray) and the two hit it off. They decide to meet at their school’s Halloween dance and there they fall madly in love with one another but are quickly kept apart by the two different worlds in which they live in.

  5. She’s All That.

    If you like the typical old school teenage romantic comedy, you gotta see the movie She’s All That. When the dorky, unattractive art student, Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) is befriended by the most popular guy, Zack Silerat (Freddie Prinze Jr.) at Southern California High School she turns into the most popular girl at school. What starts out as a beg among two jock guys soon turns into something more.

  6. No Strings Attached.

    If you need a firm definition of what friends with benefits or a causal relationship is, take notes from Dr. Emma Kurtzman (Natalie Portman), a doctor resident in the Los Angeles area. Long time friends Emma and Adam Franklin (Ashton Kutcher) runs into each other a few times as young adults but never seem to keep in touch but after finding out that his ex-girlfriend is in a romantic relationship with his father he gets drunk and calls all the women in his phone to seek a hookup but somehow he lands on Emma’s couch, NAKED. The two have sex and makes the pact to keep their relationship strictly physical without falling in love with each other but it’s not long before they learn that they want something more.

  7. The Notebook.

    Get the tissue and carton of chocolate ice cream boxes ready ladies because watching this classic love story will have you in your feelings real quick. When a poor yet really passionate young man Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) falls in love with a rich young woman, Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) in the 1940’s. He gives her a sense of freedom, but they are soon separated because of their social differences.

  8. John Tucker Must Die.

    Don’t cry over them [cheaters], let’s get even. The film follows three ex-girlfriends Carrie Schaeffer (Arielle Kebbel), Beth McIntyre (Sophia Bush) and Heather Straham (Ashanti) of a manipulative basketball star and serial cheater, John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe). They set up their former lover to fall for a new girl Kate Spencer (Brittany Snow) to watch him only get his heart broken after they learn that he has been secretly dating all three of them and pledging that each is “the one.”

  9. Brown Sugar.

    If you love old school hip-hop as much as I do and a good love story, then Brown Sugar is the film you must see. The movie tells the story of two lifelong friends, Andre Ellis (Taya Diggs) an A&R for Millennium Records and Sidney Shaw (Sanaa Lathan) a beautiful young and newly appointed editor-in-chief of one of the hottest hi-hop magazines in town. Both Ellis and Shaw have bonded together since their early childhood when they discovered hip-hop on a New York City street corner and fast forward now, 15 years later they both find themselves laying down the tracks for their future but it isn’t long until they realize that hip-hop isn’t the only thing that keeps them from coming back to each other.

  10. Love & Basketball.

    Need a movie that gets bae on the couch without any argument? You best believe to have the movie Love & Basketball on your list. The film tells the story of two next door neighbor friends, Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) who are pursuing their basketball careers. They both attend the University of Southern California (USC) together where they are managing themselves as college athletes, students as well as a couple for the very first time. But as time progresses they both find themselves struggling on and off the basketball court. Faced with challenges both McCall and Wright separate but it isn’t long until they eventually end up falling for each other.

Confessions of a Mental Health Counselor in Training: 10 Things You Wouldn’t Have Known About Me Until Now.

For months I have been contemplating whether or not I should publish this piece asking myself what would I accomplish if I pushed that big blue button entitled Publish.

I started this blog just a few years ago with the encouragement of my CUNY BA (CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies), a program that allows students enrolled in a City University of New York college to create their own major in collaboration with a faculty mentor.

There I met my mentor Professor Alexa Capeloto. For those who don’t know her she is an Associate Professor at The City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice teaching journalism. She was also a former reporter and editor for The Glendale News-Press, The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Detroit Free Press. Professor Cap has always been in my corner and even though I didn’t turn out to be a graduate student at The Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY one thing is for sure that my profound love for writing and narrative journalism has not changed.

As a Mental Health Counseling graduate student, we are taught to never self-disclose to our clients with the reason being that the disclosure could trigger something in the client or it can backfire on us even with the best intentions at hand.

This post is intended to give you, my readers a moment of rawness, genuine honesty, humor and maybe a little bit of transparency in between.

But for some of you guys, this list of facts about me is a confirmation that you know me on a deeper level and not only the Asian girl from The Bronx (btw I’m from Brooklyn originally) but for others this will give you a glimpse of me and on somethings you wouldn’t have known about me until now.

  1. I can be both an introvert and an extrovert but secretly I am extremely shy.

  2. I enjoy putting sriracha hot sauce on my food whenever I get the chance to do so.

  3. My favorite and only book I have ever read entirely was Zebratown The True Story of a Black Ex-Con and a White Single Mother in Small-Town America by: Greg Donaldson. 

  4. I am a hopeless romantic but I have never been in love. 

  5. I never actually had a birthday party. 

  6. I have a total of six dimples but the one on the right side of my face is the deepest. 

  7. I absolutely love old school (specifically 90’s) R&B and Hip-Hop. 

  8. I love Law & Order SVU, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder re-runs. 

  9. I can’t swim, bike or drive. 

  10. My greatest fear is not being able to achieve true happiness.

Day 2 of 365 Days: New Year, New Me.

I use to live in the projects in a predominantly Black and Latino/a neighborhood in Gravesend, Brooklyn New York.

In school, I was bullied constantly because of my appearance as well as my cultural background but ultimately I became a target for bullying because I didn’t live up to the model minority expectations that Asians are suppose to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the average population.

I was told once in college that Asians are considered to be white and not a person of color and since we aren’t considered to be person of color we don’t actually face racism or discrimination because we have the “good stereotypes” working in our favor.

For years I internalized these emotions of sadness and resentment. I was embarrassed, scared and ashamed. I was embarrassed because I would speak to my grandparents in Cantonese rather than English. I was scared to fully embrace my beautiful heritage and I was ashamed to claim my identity as a Chinese American.

My self-esteem was shot to it’s core. I shut out any open opportunity to understand my cultural background. I therefore became uneducated and invisible to the outside world.

For some, 2016 was one of the best years and for others not so much. 2016 was a tough year for me. But not all 365 days were bad. In the last year or so I have learned to own up to my truth and that the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one.

So here’s to a new year, a toast to healthier choices, extraordinary love and second chances.

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Photography Credit: Kennique Reynolds

Survival of the Fittest: Life After College.

Life After College.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of GradImages.

It’s pretty common and it isn’t a terrible idea for young adults to move back in with their parents following graduation from college. While the arrangements may not be ideal, for some grads living at home can provide the stability that is needed to sort out finances and ambitions.

I graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York (CUNY) last year and on June 3rd, 2016 I celebrated my one year anniversary of my post graduate journey. I completed my first year of graduate school at Hunter College, another sister school within the CUNY system but I have to admit even though I am so close to finishing up my degree and becoming the first in my immediate family to obtain a master’s degree, I still have this fear that I will not make it and my aspiration of becoming a Family & Marriage therapist will all be for nothing.

It’s completely normal to feel anxious and out of place after graduation but let us not forget how much we have accomplished in our lives and what our new beginning has in store for us all. I hope you find this piece to be helpful and maybe a little bit motivational to continue your journey of becoming an adult and to never lose faith in yourself. 

1. Cover Letter & Resume. Everyone wants to land their dream job right after college. A full-time, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., full health coverage and other amazing benefits to top it all off. A quick Google search or resume scan can tell an employer what they need to know about a job candidate such as: where they went to school, their past and current work experiences and any major awards or accomplishments—the list will go on and on. With this in mind, having a cover letter and resume is an essential piece of your post graduate journey. Make sure to proofread and get a second opinion before pressing the send button.

2. Interviewing Skills. Practice, practice, practice! Like many of our sport coaches have said to us before practice makes perfect. Having good interviewing skills goes a long way especially when you are fresh out of college looking to secure a job to pay back your student loans or to save up enough money to move out of your parents home. Mock interviewing is a great way to demonstrate your interviewing techniques and practice more effective ways of interviewing, after all there is always room for improvement.

3. Graduate School. Depending on what profession you desire to be in the near future, it may require you to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree. For some graduates, graduate school is considered to be more serious and requires a lot more time and patience. After four years of undergraduate who the heck wants to go back for more schooling? Graduate school could also be looked at as a burden for some whether it is being able to fully fund the program of choice or being mentally prepared for a higher level of learning. Consider graduate school as an option in your post graduate journey. For me, it’s changing my life as we speak.

4. Fellowships. Having experiential learning and training is important to your growth as a young professional. Generally, fellowships provide a unique experience that are not typically available to someone starting out in an entry-level position. They are also known for their commitment to the professional development of the individual and often times include intensive training. By securing a fellowship after graduation is a great way to gain some work experience while it could also help you figure out what your next move maybe.

5. Networking. The power of networking is a crucial part in your professional development. Nowadays it is not about what you know and about who you know. Find yourself a few individuals who are in the field you want to be in and ask them to be your mentor. Having a mentor can expand your network and being able to a variety of individuals to network with could only help you in the marketing world.

6. Volunteer. What employer doesn’t like FREE labor? I know, I know. You’re a fresh college graduate and got bills to pay so volunteering isn’t much of an option come to really think of it. Still consider volunteering at places that interest you because you never know the job you volunteer for may turn out to be your next job.

7. Budgeting. One of the major tips to surviving life after college is effective budgeting. Budgeting is hard to do. My advice for people who find themselves struggling with budgeting would be find alternative solutions to your habits. For examples:

  • Food. Buying lunch every day can result to a total of $80.00 weekly and sometimes food prisoning instead consider buying groceries from a local supermarket such as: fresh fruits and veggies, cold cuts, bread and some plastic containers so you’re able to bring food you made from home.
  • Online Shopping. Don’t get me wrong there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look good or fashionable but remember that you can’t spend $800.00 dollars on a pair of Chanel sunglasses if you don’t have a job or the money to begin with. Consider using websites like,, Groupon or Living Social to find coupon codes for your next online purchase. P.S. shop wisely by subscribing to your favorite stores to know when they have the best deals.
  • Public Transportation. For all my peoples who live in the city we all know and understand the total struggle of constantly buying a metrocard. A New York City monthly metro is $116.50—check to see if your employer has a transportation program such as: Wage Works that deducts pre-tax money for your transportation expenses. If not, no worries consider opening up a separate bank account and submitting a direct deposit form with the amount you desire to be use for public transportation purposes.

8. Getting Lit and Turning Up. Going to happy hour after work is fun but it is also a sure way to: (a) become an alcoholic and (b) blowing $200.00-$300.00 a month on liqour. Join the happy hour crew once every two weeks but limit how much you spend on alcohol as you get adjusted to your new budget.

9. Social Support System. Life after college can get really depressing at times, hell being in college and juggling academia and work was stressful. But I always had a small circle of friends who always motivated and encouraged me to go above and beyond. Build as many friendships and relationships with others as possible, you never know who you will meet or who will be your next boss.

10. Be Passionate, Confident and Positive. As much as college was a drag to deal with, we cannot deny that great feeling of walking across the stage and shaking your college president or the moment when you turned your tassel from right to left for the conferment of your degree. Always remember that when the going gets tough, overcome your obstacles by searching for support.

Lastly keep grinding, stay proactive and positive!