[This week’s DREAM Act guest post comes from Maria, who believes that undocumented students deserve the chance to prove themselves. Visit Dreamactivist.org to find out how you can help pass the DREAM Act].
The year of 1996 was the year when I began to try new things, the year when my mother, two-year old brother and I moved from Costa Rica to America. Moving to a new country as a six year-old was more than an adventure; it was a chance for me to reunite with my father again as he had moved to America two years before us. It was also the first time I met my dad’s family. It was the first time I had ever held the soft, pure, cold snow, the substance that made me fall in love with America. My love for America grew even more when I realized that I was now living in a country where all dreams could become reality; a country with golden opportunities.
That same love stayed with me through middle school even when I was isolated by my classmates because of a language barrier. That same love stayed with me when I was forced to sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” but did not know the lyrics. I wanted to be accepted by classmates, but they only knew me as the girl with an “accent.” I knew I needed to be the best in order to prove to everyone I was equally as good. With that realization, I tried my best to be on top of my class, and in seventh grade, I was encouraged by my teachers to apply to a program called NJSEEDS, a program that prepares economically disadvantage inner city students with strong grades to attend college preparatory boarding or day high schools. I was one of 200 students throughout New Jersey to be chosen for this prestigious program.
I attended Garrison Forest School, an all girl boarding school in Maryland. I felt more than honored to be selected among hundreds of applications to attend this private school. The love for America, which had grown over the years, stayed with me even as I applied to colleges my senior year at Garrison Forest, but had little hope of getting into them due to the fact that I was an undocumented student.
Senior year was a tough year for me, not because I had trouble with my academics, but because after going through the stressful process of applying to colleges for two months, I received letter after letter of rejection. I knew that I had not been rejected because the schools did not think of me as a strong candidate for their school. My strong academics, extra-curricular activities, and my teacher recommendations were also not the reason that I had not been accepted. I had been rejected for the sole reason that I lacked what every other classmate of mine had, a nine-digit code called a social security number. After reading each rejection letter, I naturally cried and became frustrated. I was afraid of the future that awaited me, a future without college or the opportunity to continue with my life. However, I knew that I was a strong person, and that I was not going to give up just because a few colleges had not accepted me.
It has now been two years since I have graduated from high school. During these two long years, my dreams have been put on hold. I have been living at home waiting for just one opportunity for me to continue with my education. Not so long ago a good friend of mine asked me, “Why do you want to go to college?” Though this may seem like a trivial question to ask someone, because the reasons would seem to be obvious, it is not the case for me. If most students were asked this question, their answer would most likely be along the lines of an opportunity for living away from their parents or a chance of meeting new people. However, for me, college is not just an experience; it is not just the next four years of my life, college is the opportunity of my lifetime. It is the chance that I have been so desperately waiting for the last two years of my life so that I may be able to finally realize my full potential as a student. I want to be able to experience new things that will help me grow as a student and as a person.
After graduating from high school and not having the chance to attend college, I felt as though I had been compressed into a small box with nowhere to go. It is like being stuck in one place, watching my friends’ lives continue. It has been so frustrating to see my friends grow as students and people, see them fulfill their dreams while I, on the other hand, have been stuck in limbo. If I was given just one chance, one opportunity for a college to see past my legal status and actually acknowledge all the hard work and dedication I put into my academic work all throughout high school, I would take full advantage of that opportunity.
When a person is given one shot at something that they have been denied all their life, that one person will not take such an opportunity for granted. A perfect example would be when African Americans were not allowed to attend the same schools as whites, and instead of giving up, they fought hard for that chance that they knew they deserved. Years later, we are in the 21st century where the first African American president has been elected. This would not have been possible had African Americans not fought for what they deserved, and had they not been given a chance.
Therefore, it is my firm belief that if undocumented students were to be given that same opportunity, other smart, driven, and successful leaders would emerge. I, as an undocumented student, will put all I have into becoming a successful student because I have been through a lot of hardship in reaching my goal of attending college. I have not given up hope in achieving this goal because I do not want the sacrifice that my family and I made in coming to America to be in vain. Even though colleges have said “No” to me numerous times, it does not mean I will say “No” to myself, “No” to my dreams.
(Photo credit: CSUN DREAMS to be Heard)