Today, we are proud to announce our TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship winner for Fall 2020: Cecily Ulloa. Every year, TonaLaw awards two United States military veterans with a $1,000 scholarship — once in the Spring, and once in the Fall. This scholarship rewards our faithful heroes for their service and helps them further their education to seize the opportunities they so richly deserve.

Our current winner, Cecily, served in the United States Army for over 6 years and is now a mother of three. During the course of her service, Cecily tried out just about every role she could: from an administrative clerk to an equipment specialist to squad gunner to first responding medical provider and more. Her aspirations and fighting spirit secured her a squad leader position on her Brigade security team, making her the only female squad leader in her department.

Cecily is currently enrolled in the Valencia College AS in Nursing program in Orlando, Florida. Once she receives her Registered Nurse certification, she intends to move on to her Bachelors in Nursing at the University of Central Florida. She says her, “main goal,” is, “becoming a Nurse Practitioner and helping other Veterans get the care they deserve.”

We applaud Cecily for her initiative, her indomitable spirit, and her willingness to go the extra mile in order to not just serve others but also become a more skilled, knowledgeable, and well-rounded human being.

TonaLaw got the chance to learn more about Cecily through her application essay, and we asked her some follow-up questions in order to learn even more details and find out what drives her to accomplish so much.

From an Unsupportive Childhood to a Highly Accomplished Soldier and Now Aspiring Nurse

In her essay, Cecily revealed that she enlisted in the United States Army in 2008 as not just an 18-year-old but also a single mother with a child who was not even two years old. Cecily spoke of troubles with abuse in her household for her and her siblings, which combined with a lack of support interfered with her ability to excel in the classroom.

“I struggled throughout my childhood in school because I never had the help I so desperately needed,” Cecily shared with us. “Joining the military was a way for me to make something of myself and have a career that I thought I’d never be able to achieve with my home circumstances.”

In light of her past, we asked Cecily: 

What would you say to a young person facing similar struggles to what you did, knowing what you know now? What sort of advice would you give them in regards to seeking out a field of study and obtaining a post-secondary degree or certification?

If I were able to give any advice to a younger person, it would be to block out the noise you create for yourself. Don’t allow others to tell you you’re not capable of something. Set your mind to what you want, and don’t let anyone, or anything, stop you from achieving those goals.

Don’t allow roadblocks to deter you from your goals no matter how difficult things get. Don’t wait for someone to give you the answer, find the answer. Not only will you learn more with finding the answer yourself, but you’ll also build confidence and independence to be able to excel and stand out from others. Adapting isn’t about changing yourself; it’s about knowing your strengths and using them to your advantage. 

Obtaining a degree will always have its challenges, but remember you have a voice and a choice to constantly strive for better, no matter your circumstances.

A Military Career Marked by Excellence in Multiple Roles

Another remarkable component of Cecily’s story is just how far she succeeded in the military across multiple roles, responsibilities, and deployments.

“I cross-trained with nearly every department within my Brigade,” Cecily wrote in her application essay. “I worked as a PAC room clerk tracking a company’s worth of soldier’s detailed information on training and field exercises. I was the lead Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Operations Specialist (CBRN) NCO for my company, where I oversaw maintenance on all chemical protection gear and training.”

“I was an Armorer and earned my Expert Rifleman badge, scoring a 38/40 on the M16 and a 40/40 on the M9. I was my squad’s gunner in field training and throughout deployment. I cross-trained as a Combat LifeSaver and was the lead first responding medical provider for my entire company if there was an incident to render aid until the Battalion medics arrived.”

This was just part of the picture, though. Cecily continued to excel in her circumstances by seeking out training and a leadership role in nearly any field that could catch her interest.

“It was like a fire inside of me ignited, and I had to continue learning as much as I possibly could. I spent 6 months with our legal department learning regulations and assisting in chaptering soldiers out of the military. I was the supply specialist for my company, where I was responsible for more than 2 million dollars worth of military equipment — with zero loss or damages in the 2 years I held that position. 

“While deployed, I graduated top of my class in the Warrior Leadership Course, which is designed to put enlisted personnel through in class and hands on preparations to become a strong leader candidate for promotion. 

“Lastly, during my 2013 deployment I was the only female in my department where I held a squad leader position working for our Brigade security team. Having performed so well, I was tasked with special missions to train and work beside the Kuwaiti Army on various technology equipment and security protection measures.”

While this record largely speaks for itself, we were still compelled to ask:

Do you feel your service experience has prepared you in some way for completing your program and transitioning to a career in your field of study? If so, how?

My military experience definitely prepared me with the discipline and focus to be able to transition and complete my program in the medical career field. I’m a very structured and organized person, and I learned those skills in the Army so that I could make changes faster, move quicker in situations, and multitask. 

I always set myself apart from my peers because I was able to make critical decisions speedily, exceed standards on multiple issues at once, and because of my ability to learn so quickly. My service in the Army set me up for success, and I know the tools and skills I learned while serving are the foundation for me to complete the goals I’ve set for myself in my field of study.

Cecily’s Plans for the Future — Get Her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

After being recommended for medical retirement in 2015, Cecily was honorably discharged.

“I had intended to make the military a career and continue my service but sometimes life has different plans for us,” Cecily told us. “The Army shaped my education and career goals by not only pushing me physically and mentally; it also gave me the confidence and pride to show my 3 children that we must always strive for more. Now as a civilian my education and learning continues.”

Cecily obtained her Associate’s degree in just one year with a 3.93 GPA, and she is now enrolled in the Valencia AS in Nursing program.

We asked Cecily about her plans for the future:

Can you tell us about any specific career goals or intentional plans you have for the next 5 or so years?

In the next five years my specific career goals are to earn my Registered Nurse degree, obtain my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, work in a VA hospital for a year before applying for my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. I hope to eventually earn my DNP so that I can better assist veterans seen at the VA hospitals — who deserve better care and to have providers who can not only treat their injuries and illness but also relate and understand them on a deeper level of care.

These plans sound quite commendable, and Cecily has a plan to complete them even while obstacles like a global pandemic threaten to delay or disrupt them.

I’ve been trained and conditioned to adapt. I always have a back up to my back up. It’s how I’ve been since I enlisted in the Army at age 18. I’m a patient person and strongly believe all things happen for a reason. 

My military service taught me to “hurry up and wait,” but I always looked at it as “hurry up and take advantage of the wait,” so I always strive to utilize my time to the fullest. 

The world is full of uncertainties right now, so I stay focused on my goals and adjusting to make the situations work for my progress. During the delay I continued to study and refresh myself on basic medical skills as well as getting recertified in CPR and AED training.

A Different Perspective on Education and Advanced Careers Thanks to Her Dedication and Service

Our final question to Cecily was written so she could teach us more about how serving in the military can open one’s eyes to new realities while building the skills they need to succeed in life.

Would you say that your experience as a soldier has changed your perspective on higher education, career planning, or the professional world in general?

Before I enlisted in the military, I was not the best student in school. I struggled and had no confidence when it came to my studies. When I joined the military and was thrown into different situations, there was no room for excuses or failure. You had to figure things out one way or another. I became really good at figuring things out and slowly built the confidence that I needed to realize how important a higher education truly was. 

When I was medically retired, I knew I needed to plan a new career for myself, and I knew I was passionate about helping others. I set my sights on a profession where I could not only help other people, but I could also help disabled veterans like myself. 

My experience as a Soldier is what shaped me into the disciplined, focused, attentive person I am today, and I know if not for my military service I wouldn’t be on the educational and career path I’m currently on.

TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship Is a Small Way to Say Thank You for the Sacrifices and Dedication People Like Cecily Exemplify

TonaLaw is honored to be able to offer a gesture of appreciation to people like Cecily, people who are willing to test themselves and strive to do the utmost in any situation they are given.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you, Cecily, and wish you luck in your studies and your future career, which seems as bright as can be. We hope you and your three children can continue to persevere and make the most of every day, even when life has different plans in store for us than what we expected.

We will be seeking applications for another TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship winner in Spring 2021, so we can’t wait to hear more inspiring stories and uplifting advice from heroes like Cecily.

In the meantime:

Thank You to Our Men and Women in Uniform for Your Selfless Service!