Dear High School and Undergraduate Seniors,
I am no expert. This my story, and I hope it is one many of you can relate to and refer to for motivation whenever you’re feeling like giving up.
I don’t have all the answers, and I’ve been extremely blessed in my journey thus far, but I want us to be able to learn from each other. I am a 22-year-old student from Northern California going to school in Dallas, Texas. I graduated just a few weeks ago and, in August, I will begin graduate school in clinical mental health counseling.
Like many of you reading right now and those who came before me, I’m moving along the frontier, claiming unexplored territory in my family. I certainly never felt like the smartest in the room in school growing up. I always thought that intelligence was an inherent trait that you either possessed since birth or not at all.
Neither one of my parents went to school past high school, but it was always the plan for me to go to college. I knew I wanted to play basketball and study psychology in a big city—those were my two goals. I was never highly recruited, but I emailed every college in the country four times over, begging for a chance. And by the grace of God, I heard back from a school in Dallas with a great psychology program that could offer me a little help with tuition.
But even when the opportunity of a lifetime fell into my lap, I was hesitant to act upon it. I was afraid. My family rarely traveled growing up and I had barely left California. Now, to fulfill my dream I had to move out to Texas by myself. Even with the opportunity right in front of me, I worked to convince myself that Dallas just wouldn’t work out.
“I won’t be able to afford to survive.”
“Am I even smart enough for college?”
“Maybe I can stay in my hometown for a few more years.”
After a week of no sleep, constant anxiety, and a lot of reflection, I realized I needed to take a leap of faith and make it work—no matter what. I come from a low-income family so I get the maximum amount of federal student aid. I educated myself on subsidized and unsubsidized loans and took out the loans I needed to pay for the rest of my schooling.
As soon as I got to Dallas, I got a job that worked with my school and basketball schedules as much as possible so I could pay rent (I decided to live off-campus with two roommates from my team). So, most of my days looked something like this:
- Wake up at 6:00 a.m. to lift.
- Go to class from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Work from 2:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
- Practice from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- Home by 9:30 p.m. for homework.
I rarely had disposable income or free time. I felt like I was drowning in life, and it felt like it was an impossible and never-ending struggle.
One day I was sitting in a park meditating, reflecting and honestly feeling a little bad for myself when I realized: Everything I was doing was exactly what I asked for in life. If someone would have asked me a year prior if I would take my current schedule if it meant I got to play basketball and study psychology I would’ve said yes in a heartbeat. It gave me a sense of resilience and the confidence to know I can always overcome adversity in academia.
Unfortunately, right after midterms in March, schools across the nation were forced to close and complete the year online because of COVID-19. This pandemic has made education much more complicated, especially for first-generation students. And school closures have served to shine a bright light on the disparities that exist for first-generation and low-income students.
Further, thousands of high school and college seniors didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy celebrating their accomplishments with teachers and classmates in front of their families—a tradition that can be incredibly important for first-generation students and their families. I never planned to walk for my graduation for personal reasons, but I understand the magnitude of the celebration and the meaning that it holds for students. And whether you are entering college, entering graduate school or entering the workforce, the process has become much more difficult during this pandemic.
Attending university and planning for higher education during this time forced me to think about what is truly important to me. Do I really love psychology? Why am I doing this anyway? Am I wasting my time? Is this worth it?
These questions are normal, and with school during quarantine, there is no glory, only tedious, hard work and self-improvement. Life is a lot like that, and if I had to take anything positive from this difficult time, I would say it forced me to slow down and focus on the work, on improvement in my field, on improvement in my life.
And I would also like all the high school and college seniors to know that not having a graduation ceremony doesn’t take away from your accomplishments. You are amazing, you are worthy and you are one step closer to your purpose. The world needs us now more than ever! We are the next generation and we can help to ensure that something like this (COVID-19) will never happen again.
As I said I’m no expert, but I’m a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I will attend graduate school in the fall—in spite of the challenges. I hope you will continue to pursue your dreams, too. And I would love to hear your stories—testimonies from fellow first-generation college students. I hope we can learn from each other and help each other grow, especially during these trying times.
Peace and Love.