Out of 33 cousins, myself included, three of them went to and graduated from college. We all grew up in underserved cities, but these three beat the odds. What motivated them to do so and what was the process of applying to college like for them?
The first, George Luna, was raised in East Los Angeles by his grandmother. His father who was always close by, introduced George to libraries and books. From then on, reading and wanting to understand things lit a passion in George.
High school was boring for George, there wasn’t much opportunity for much critical thinking. Yet, George excelled, so it was presumed by others that he would go to college. His reason for considering college was his desire to study what he wanted. His decision to apply was made his junior year. The application process wasn’t difficult for George. He researched the FAFSA, scholarship opportunities, and much more. He also visited his high school’s college center and learned a lot there. Then he got organized and successfully applied to and was accepted to San Francisco State University, but then transferred to East Los Angeles College to be close to his mom who was ill, and then transferred to University of California, Riverside where he earned his bachelor’s degree in history. George’s biggest motivation was his grandmother, who he knew only as mom. “She taught me to go after the things I want, and she was hard on me at times to make sure I stayed on a path towards college,” George said.
Yesenia Garcia was the second to graduate. She is the oldest of three, and was raised in Colton by her mother and father who were always supportive and guided her towards an educational path.
Yesenia’s motivation came very early, when her first grade teacher said to her, “You can learn whatever you want in college.” This sounded magical to Yesenia and from that point on, school had a purpose for her. Unfortunately when the time finally came to apply to college, she felt confused and not equipped with the right guidance. Staff at her high school talked about deadlines, but they never went through the process in detail. Luckily, with the help of her English teacher, Yesenia was able to complete the application process. Although risky, she only applied to California State University, San Bernardino. Fortunately, she was admitted and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. Yesenia’s motivation was college itself, she wanted to be free to learn what she wanted. Her parents played an important role in making sure she stayed on track academically, to help her realize her goal.
Finally, Melissa Albarenga, the youngest of three was raised in East Los Angeles by her mother.
Melissa’s motivation built up throughout high school. In ninth grade, her cousin George who was attending college began asking her where she wanted to go to college, and he would email her information. She liked the idea of college but didn’t think it was for her because her family didn’t have the money to pay for it. Melissa also had no clue what she would study there. But all this changed in her junior year when she began helping in the college center. The more she learned about college, the more she felt that it could be attainable. She made the decision to apply her junior year and felt lucky to have the grades. She thanks her sister, Mari, who insisted she bring home only As and Bs. Because of her involvement in the college center, the application process wasn’t a concern. With the college center’s assistance, she applied to and was accepted to eight colleges. She graduated from her top pick, University of California, Santa Barbara with a bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies and a minor in Women’s culture and development. Melissa credits her motivation to her immediate family, to George, and to herself for getting involved at school, which completely changed her perspective on the possibility and reality of going to college.
The three cousins are now equipped with the most dynamic tool, a post-secondary education. Their college degrees are symbols of empowerment. These accomplishments show that young people in our family are capable of breaking cycles of poverty and struggle for themselves and the next generation.
Monica Luna Gonzalez
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