24 May College Dream Eludes Immigrant Valedictorian
First Person, Jessica Garcia// Audio, William Haynes
People often speak about how college is a long, rigorous challenge, and I am sure it’s probably true. However, over the years I have proven to myself that I posses the commitment, desire, potential and determination to be academically successful.
I’m not claiming that college will be easy, only that I am a self-motivated, hard-working and determined student – one of many — who enjoys taking on academic challenges and doesn’t mind making the extra effort required by advanced placement and honors classes. Actually, these more challenging courses are the ones that truly fulfill my hunger for knowledge. For me, college will be a continuation of my quest to attain knowledge and improve as a person.
It is a journey that I am ready to commence, but the road forward is not without significant obstacles.
Because of finances and my status as an undocumented immigrant, my path to higher education is blocked. Now, I don’t believe that simply because I did well academically in high school that I should be handed money for college. I do believe, however, that I should have an opportunity to work for the money I need to put myself through school. Because of my immigration status, though, this may not happen.
Not only do I not qualify for Free Application for Federal Student Aid or other government grants, I am also excluded from university work-study and paid internship programs. So my goal of attaining a college degree rests largely on private scholarships. Even then, most private scholarships require applicants to be either citizens or legal permanent residents. Discovering all of this has been a frustrating experience, one that has caused me great consternation.
I am a high school senior in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I have resided in Contra Costa County since my parents decided to emigrate to the United States from Mexico when I was two years old. This is where I attended elementary, middle and high school, and where I struggled as a small child to learn the English language.
By the time I entered first grade, however, I was not only proficient in English, I was also reading at a third grade level. I have earned a place on the Academic Honor Roll of my school, every year.
Today, I am the valedictorian of my graduating senior class, I have good SAT and ACT scores, and I am actively involved in my community. I have volunteered in the YMCA’s Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, served as an intern for the offices of our state Assembly member, Nancy Skinner, volunteered as a math tutor for students, who were at risk for failing algebra, volunteered in the November election, and fought for our school to stay open despite the budget crisis, among other things.
Yet even after all my efforts and hard work, the financial barriers to college remain. Despite having been accepted into almost every school of my choice, I might not be able to attend a four-year university in the fall. Because I come from a low-income family and qualify for AB 540 — the California law that allows undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities without paying out-of-state tuition — most schools will not provide me with financial aid, forcing me to pay a full tuition. Neither my family nor I can afford that.
My academic goal is to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in psychology and molecular and cell biology. In five years, I see myself having completed my studies and attending medical school.
But given the current laws governing access to education and finances for undocumented students, I may instead be forced to enroll at a Junior College first, and will probably be struggling like other undocumented college graduates to find a decent job after college.
I am deeply troubled by this situation, and fear many other undocumented students like me will suffer, if nothing is done to implement a path to citizenship.
This is why I again urge everyone to please support the Dream Act. It would not only provide students like me with a path to citizenship, but also act as a key that will open the door to many academic and job opportunities. It will allow young people like myself to better serve our communities.
I feel strongly that my city, state and national governments have an obligation to support young people, who want to contribute to the vitality of the education system and economy.
Please support us, don’t deport us!
The author’s name has been changed to conceal her identity.