I recently did a thirty-minute presentation for a service class at my high school on the topic of immigration. I’ve always appreciated the help and support I’ve received from my parents, my family, and the mentors I’ve had in my life, but never to the extent that I did when I made this one realization while preparing my presentation.
During my research, I learned that only 2.5{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} of undocumented students both graduate high school, and go on to college. Undocumented students have a drop-out rate of 49{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72}, much higher than the national average of 11{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} among U.S. citizens.

Obviously, undocumented students are affected by financial struggles, language issues, and the problem of coming to a completely new country. I was lucky enough to come here at a pretty young age, when I was only four. Because of this, English came easy for me, and I didn’t have as much trouble adapting to this country. These statics led me to question how it was that I was able overcome them. What was different about me or the circumstances of my life that have landed me where I am today?

During a conversation with my college counselor, who is also first-generation and extremely devoted to helping low-income students go to college, she talked about the many times she’s seen undocumented students give up on their dreams. She tells me I am one out of two students in my situation, who, in the 15 years she has worked in education, she has seen actually make it out of this cycle of poverty. She says that so many students get discouraged because they don’t see any way of being able to afford college.

As she talks, I can’t help but think of my own journey. I always had this feeling that I would make it. I did not know how I would afford it. I did not know where I would go. I just knew that I would do it. Not going to college was not an option. I only started thinking about college towards the end of my junior year, and even when I saw for the first time how expensive college is, even while knowing that it was not financially feasible for my family, I didn’t feel discouraged. I felt hopeful.

I didn’t know why I felt this way, and in questioning this, I found the source of my hope: others. I have cousins who for one reason or the other, did not finish high school, or could not go on to college. Many of them are working low-wage jobs. Rather than being spiteful or jealous, they have always been encouraging. I would sometimes work in construction with them, and every time the topic of immigration came up, I would always hear, “ustedes la van a hacer.” You guys are going to make it. They referred to my generation of undocumented students. They would always tell me, just keep doing what you are doing, because you guys will have papers one day. I was always constantly surrounded by comments like these from my family, parents, and mentors, which made me completely hopeful and encouraged to keep at it, and keep at it hard.

Although the topic of immigration and first-generation students are different, they are still closely related. My message is not for those who have had the willpower, the fortune, and the blessing to have made it this far, but to those who are still struggling with seeing hope, who may not have the optimism from those around them to push them ahead. There is a brighter future ahead, whether undocumented, low-income, with disabilities, or any other trial. I am beginning to see it. Although it seemed distant during my times in high school, I knew it was there, and I constantly had people there to remind me of it. For those of you who may not, this is only one more obstacle that is between you and success. As long as there is life, there is hope, and you have to be the one to remind yourself that there is something better to look forward to, when others do not do it for you. I am now attending Pomona College, on a full ride scholarship made possible by Questbridge, and I’m First.