“I think with challenges, you either overcome them or you fall behind and become a statistic.” -Martin Klebba
As a Latino growing up in a poor family with parents who had not graduated from college, the odds were already stacked up against me. I was disadvantaged because I lacked the college influence from my parents, and they couldn’t pay for my college tuition even if they wanted to. There would be no shortcuts in my journey to success, so I had to be determined from day one and remain so throughout my four years of high school. I wouldn’t settle for any grade less than a B, I would go back and find the right answers when I got a question on a test wrong, and I would never allow myself to choose my social life over homework. It was a decision that was very hard at times, but I knew that I had goals I wanted to achieve. I needed to be able to prove that Latinos can make it, that we can make something better of ourselves by pursuing higher education, and that nobody could stop us from doing so. My mother, so warm-hearted and sincere, always reminded me of how smart I was and to not let negative people bring me down, to prove that I wasn’t just another statistic. Hearing these words come from the mother who also played the father figure in my life was what kept me focused. I wasn’t only doing well in school and aiming for college just for myself, but I was doing it for my family, my sister who looks up to me, my brother who helped me realize the importance of education, and my mother who told me she wanted me to attend college and make something better of myself. I couldn’t fail my sister and tell her that dreams for poor Latinos are unattainable. I couldn’t fail my mentors who guided me through times of immense struggle, the teachers who have always believed in my potential, and the people who told me that not being white doesn’t mean the world is not mine to explore. I needed to prove that all of these lectures and positive feedback were worth it. I knew that I had too many people counting on me to just throw in the towel, so I focused all of my energy on proving the stereotypes wrong.
After a grueling and agonizing three round interview process, I finally got the phone call on the night of December 15, notifying me that I would receive the POSSE Boston full-tuition leadership scholarship and would be attending Hamilton College in the fall of 2016. There was nothing that could prepare me for that moment, the moment that I officially became a first-generation college student. I remember feeling nothing but anxiety as I picked up the call that night, hearing loud cheers and the phrase, "Congratulations, you are a POSSE scholar for Hamilton College!"
Four months later, I received another call. Except this time, it was from my grandmother telling me about the Gates Millennium Scholarship. This leadership scholarship would help cover any cost of attendance so that I wouldn’t have any financial barriers inhibiting my success at Hamilton. An application with eight essays, each a thousand words, which asked everything about me and left no shortcuts. There were so many insecurities that I had to combat while having to share my struggles with someone who has never met me before and finding the courage to do so: acknowledging that I am poor, and that I needed this scholarship because it would make my dreams of going to college debt-free come true. I was so driven that I would stay after school for hours every day working on these essays, perfecting them so that my audience could completely understand my upbringing. Having to share the fact that I was removed from my home at the age of fifteen. Admitting that I suffered from anxiety and depression. There were times when I got lost in these essays, wondering what I would be had it not been for the support of my family and friends. Aside from these internal struggles to open up to people, I was being bombarded by deaths in the family, financial problems, balancing two jobs, and trying to stay dedicated to my extracurricular activities. When the world seemed as if it was out to get me, I stayed focused on my end goal. I wrote those essays, which was the best decision I ever made because now I can say that I’m going to college for free!
In those moments, all I could think about was the day my Abuela told me “no te preocupes, tu vas a recibir la beca!.” With the guidance of people like my grandmother as well as the time spent reflecting on what I wanted to obtain in life, I have set myself on a path to success in college, all because I decided to set goals for myself that were attainable if I wanted them to be. Although the world is a divided place in which some lack the same opportunities as others, I can say that my perseverance sets me apart from the privileged kids who lack the hardship to be strong and diligent leaders in society. I am one to separate myself because I never let anyone tell me I wasn’t good enough. Instead, I tried everything I could to prove them wrong and to show other Latino students that they are more intelligent than what they are set out to be. Like a good friend of mine once said, “You can’t allow your setbacks to cause you to sit back”. Every single achievement has come with its obstacles, and I learned how to combat them because of my struggles growing up poor, learning how to take advantage of every opportunity and embracing each challenge with dignity and perseverance. Poverty has made me privileged in a sense, and I don’t think I would’ve rather had it any other way.
Moral of the story:
You are privileged if you find the strength within yourself to persevere even when the obstacles are against you. You are privileged if you can say that your leadership skills will enable you to get scholarships and graduate with an undergraduate degree debt free. You are privileged if you are able to accept advice from others, and use that advice to grow and become a better person. But most importantly, you're privileged if you can say that you earned the money you have instead of inheriting it.