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From BYU–Hawaii to Harvard

A BYUH alumna shares her story of gratitude, resilience and unwavering belief toward her goal to have a master’s degree from Harvard University

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Photo by Photo provided by Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar.

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar, a BYU–Hawaii alumna from Mongolia, graduated from Harvard University in May 2023 with her master's of education in policy and analysis. Despite the daunting goal she set, to achieve high in academics and professionally, she said she remained motivated throughout her application and studies. “Dreams are within reach, and life becomes abundant through hard work,” said Sukhbaatar.

Her chosen pathway  

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar said she came to choose her specific pathway from her experiences at BYUH. She said, “I'm very grateful for BYU–Hawaii and for what it provided in terms of how I was able to explore different cultures and cultural practices.” She said through her experience working in the Office of Honor, she realized the importance of students feeling heard, which ignited her desire to improve their educational experiences.

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar said her interest is focused in international comparative education, where developing countries are trying to adopt and implement new education-related policies. On her social media, she announced her acceptance into prestigious master's degree programs at Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, Boston University and Harvard University. Reflecting on her childhood dreams, she said, “I dreamt of going to Harvard University when I was a kid but did not know how. I know how now.”

Fulfilling a dream 

After completing her bachelor's degree in international cultural studies at BYUH in 2017, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar said she was ready to embark on the start of her new life and achieve her goals of higher education. “Harvard has always been my ideal and dream school. I wished to challenge myself, and Harvard is recognized internationally,” she said. She added attending a top-tier institution was crucial for success in her field.

In a heartfelt Facebook post, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar shared her profound realization after being accepted into the prestigious and long-cherished institution. "Upon entering this beautiful and esteemed school that was once only a distant dream, I came to understand that dreams are within reach." She shared her desire to learn from the most esteemed professors and experienced practitioners in her chosen field of study. She added it is important to forge lifelong friendships and leave a lasting legacy not only for herself but also for her children, future grandchildren and generations yet to come.

Overcoming challenges

During her journey to gain admission into the prestigious school, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar said the application process was challenging and lengthy. Despite Harvard's highly competitive acceptance rate, she said she remained motivated through it all and began preparing for the process two years in advance. She said she surrounded herself with successful and inspiring individuals who fueled her determination to pursue her goal.

Erdenebulgan Erdenesuvd, the husband of Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar, expressed his deep gratitude for his wife, highlighting her as not just his partner but also a formidable role model for their children. "During her time studying at Harvard, she exhibited excellent time management, hard work and organizational skills,” said Erdenesuvd.

Pursuing her passion and professional aspirations, he said Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar immersed herself in relevant courses and engaged in multiple research projects aimed at positively impacting education policies and professional development, a field she is deeply passionate about. "She believes that anything is possible with the right mindset and effort,” said Erdenesuvd. He expressed appreciation for his wife's unwavering support of his dreams and her relentless dedication to achieving her own.

Davaadorj Sukhbaatar, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar's brother and a senior majoring in marketing from Mongolia, expressed his pride in his sister's acceptance to prestigious universities. He shared his pride extended to both of his sisters, saying, “I felt so proud of my sister, as I have always been about my two sisters. She had always pursued an education and placed learning at the top of her list of priorities. … Our mother taught us that education is very important in our lives.”

Erdenesuvd shared how Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar would wake up early each day to attend to their daughters' needs while juggling the demands of her studies and work. He said, "Despite having many assignments and group research projects, she always informed me of her weekly schedule so that our family time was always a priority." He added her unwavering commitment to improving campus policies and fostering a safe and inclusive environment for students left a lasting impression.

Gratitude and support

Sukhbaatar acknowledged while the path to achieving her dreams was filled with challenges and obstacles, the steadfast positive influence of her family served as a driving force in her unwavering determination. As she graduated with her master's degree and carries new dreams within her, she said she looks forward to opening the doors to the next chapter of her life with a deep appreciation for her family's invaluable support.

Davaadorj Sukhbaatar stated, “I feel inspired, proud and relieved now that she has graduated. I know it was not an easy journey for her and her family… Raising two toddlers while attending school, especially Harvard, is not an easy job." He shared the immense joy her success has brought to their family, emphasizing her achievements are not solely hers but a reflection of their entire family's triumph.

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar expressed her gratitude towards her mother in a Facebook post, highlighting the constant support she received in making crucial decisions. “She is a fantastic mentor, friend and mother to me. She sacrificed many things to give me the opportunity to have a firm academic and professional foundation. I am thankful for everything she does every day,” she says.

Davadorj Sukhbaatar said his mother desired for her children to go to church education schools. His eldest sister, Purevsuren Sukhbaatar, graduated from BYU in Provo, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar graduated from BYUH and now he will be graduating from BYUH as well. He said their mother is the cornerstone of their achievements, crediting her sacrifice and dedication for their success. “It is a blessing, and we are happy to fulfill what our mother wanted us to fulfill. Our achievements are a way of repaying our debt to her for what she has done and sacrificed to raise us,” he said.

Future plans

After graduating in May, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar said she is now determinedly pursuing her goals and actively seeking higher education policy-related positions. She said she is interested in working at an Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion “to help students from different sexual genders, ethnicities or nationalities feel safe, acknowledged and understood on campus.”

Her future plans include a desire to return to Mongolia and contribute to the implementation of education policies. She said her goal is to help implement education policies “to improve quality education, implement financial aid and help students access better education for low-income families.”

Davaadorj Sukhbaatar said his sister's passion and drive to further her education influenced him. “She graduated from BYU–Hawaii and has now also received her master's degree from Harvard. That indeed inspires me to continue my education after my journey here at BYUH,” he said.

Reflecting on her own journey, Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar gave encouraging remarks for students regarding their future goals. She said, “Spend your time wisely and devote your time to something you are passionate about. Time is your friend. It is valuable. Don’t make it your enemy." She said hard work is important in identifying one's dreams, understanding the necessary steps to achieve them and striving to make them a reality.

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar acknowledged the support and guidance of many individuals throughout her academic journey. She expressed her gratitude towards her supportive spouse, two daughters, parents, loving brother and sister and her family as a whole, who played an instrumental role in her journey. She said she considers graduating from a top-ranked institution a stepping stone toward her next goals and dreams.

Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar and her husband, Erdenebulgan Erdenesuvd, with their two children.
Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar and her husband, Erdenebulgan Erdenesuvd, with their two children.
Photo by Photo provided by Ulziijargal Sukhbaatar.