July 11, 2023

American Dream Comes True for Seyon Srithar ’22

Seyon Srithar ’22 and President Lisa Vollendorf at spring 2023 commencement in Albany.

The year was 1990, and Seyon Srithar ’22 and his wife Komala had lost their houses in the intense fighting between the insurgent Tamil minority and the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka. The war was in its seventh year — and getting worse.

 “The civil war was at its peak,” Srithar says. “There was non-stop bombing, shooting, shelling, raping, abduction by armed forces. I had a gun held to my forehead. Our houses were destroyed, and we were instantly becoming refugees in our homeland.” 

The couple decided to flee, though it meant leaving behind their family, including Srithar’s father, brother, and sister. That August, they boarded a plane destined for JFK International Airport, with $150, two outfits each, and their legal documents, including tourist visas. It was the last time Srithar saw his father, who would die in a car accident in 2000. His mom had already passed away from breast cancer years before.

Today, Srithar’s life is a far cry from the one he left behind in Sri Lanka. He owns a house in the suburbs of Rochester, works as controller at a manufacturing company, and holds two college degrees. He’s also the father of two grown and successful children. Last spring, he walked the stage at Empire State University’s spring commencement, the proud recipient of an MBA and an advanced certificate in project management.

“It’s the real American dream,” he says.


A Tough Start

For Srithar, like most immigrants, achieving that dream took time. The journey began in Queens, NY, where Srithar and his wife found an apartment. Though he was an accountant in Sri Lanka, his credentials were not recognized here in the U.S. “I had to start all over from the bottom,” he says.

In the meantime, he needed to work to support not just him and Komala but their parents back home in Sri Lanka. The first job he got was delivering food, which paid 95 cents an hour. He found a second job packaging bread — which paid the same —and drove a cab, before becoming an expediter, production assistant, and bookkeeper at a window shade manufacturer in Long Island City in Queens.

In 1992, he enrolled at CUNY Graduate Center as a full-time student in the accounting program, while still working full-time. “I paid tuition from earnings from work,” he says. “There were no loans or financial aid. I was proud about this accomplishment.”

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Srithar became a junior accountant, then an accountant, and eventually the controller at the same company. In 2010, he moved his family to Rochester, where he did contract work until he landed at Aludyne in 2011, a mobility device manufacturer. When the company closed its Batavia location during the pandemic, Srithar decided to use that time to check off another item on his bucket list: getting an MBA.

Srithar set his sights on Empire State University. He liked that the programs were online and knew the tuition was affordable. Soon, Srithar was enrolled in SUNY Empire’s School of Graduate Studies.

In 2022, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA. When he could not make it to commencement last year, his children insisted that he go this year. This spring, with his family in the audience, he walked across the stage in Albany. Afterward, he had his photo taken with President Lisa Vollendorf.


Living the Dream

By October 2022, Srithar had found a new job as controller at Lexington Machining, a manufacturing company that makes auto components. As proud as he is of his own accomplishments, Srithar is quick to point out those of his family’s. Komala, a former accountant in Sri Lanka, is an RN at the Buffalo VA Medical Center and holds a bachelor’s in nursing and master’s in medical management.

Their son Sivaker has a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s in chemical engineering from the University at Buffalo. He works in Boston as a scientist for a biomedical research firm. Their daughter Kaviya is in her fourth year at Daemen University, where she is studying to become a physician’s assistant. Srithar himself dreams of going farther in his career and is toying with the idea of going into the food industry and selling Jaffna-style Sri Lankan food.

In the years since he left, Srithar has gone back to Sri Lanka only once to visit his siblings who still live there. His only regret is that his parents never got to see how far he went or the level of education his children and his wife attained.

“Education is the most important thing, and it is a long-term investment” he says. “That is why I made sure I got educated, my wife was educated, and my children were educated. Education is number one for me. It is a passport for success.”