Started from the Bottom and Now I’m Here

This past Friday classes were canceled for a HGSE event: Critical Conversations and Bold Ideas.

The event kicked off HGSE’s new fundraising campaign. There were many speakers and panels on key topics in education. The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke, as well as Geoffrey Canada, founder and president of Harlem Children’s Zone. The event culminated with a performance by Yo-Yo Ma and then there was a block party with free food and drinks.

All in all, the event was quite inspiring, overwhelming, and amazing. It was great to be immersed in an environment where everyone was clearly passionate about education, and people were coming together to share their ideas on how to address the problems the field is experiencing.

All throughout the event, I kept thinking how surreal it is that I’m here. Sometimes I worry about how people might perceive me when they see that I go to Harvard, or that all the universities I’ve been to are private, or that I have been a part of TFA. I worry that they might think that I come from a privileged background and make assumptions about me, when in fact, my story is quite different. I think about my identity and the circumstances I’ve been in, and how incredible it is that I’m here.

I think about how my mother crossed the border to give birth to me in the states because she wanted me to have better opportunities than she ever did. I think about the struggles she must have encountered – raising a child on her own in a foreign country where everyone spoke a different language. I think about the initial hope she must have felt when meeting my stepfather, and the resulting despair she must have experienced right after.

My mom worked hard to raise me and my brothers while my stepfather was in and out of jail. My stepfather turned out to be an unstable and abusive individual with drinking and mental health issues. He took out his anger and frustration on us, verbally and physically. However, in many ways, my mother was trapped because she lacked the resources and education to get out.

My mother always stressed the importance of education, and how it was the key to a better life. I internalized that education was a necessity for survival. I dedicated myself to school, and strived to do my best. School was my escape from a hectic environment. I may not have gone to the best schools, but the teachers I encountered were extremely dedicated to their profession. They inspired and made me believe in my abilities. They helped me identify resources and scholarships I could apply to. I was the first in my family to navigate this process, so it was incredibly helpful to have others who could point me in the right direction. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I could have a bright future. I had options.

I can’t imagine what a big deal it must have been for my mom for me to graduate high school with honors. I was accepted into every college I applied to, but I ultimately decided on USC. I know it was hard for my mom to accept that I, her only daughter, would now be leaving the nest at 18 years old. Los Angeles was only 6-8 hours away, but for my mom, it might as well been on the other side of the earth.

However, getting into college was only half the battle. I was fortunate enough to receive scholarships and financial aid, but it wasn’t enough. My mom would have loved to help me financially, but the reality was that she couldn’t. So I worked incredibly hard to balance multiple jobs, a full course load, and at least some semblance of a social life for those 4 years. It was incredibly taxing, and that last year was when I reached my breaking point – I was exhausted. I was crying almost every single day and suffering from panic attacks. I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I am lucky to have had David in my life, who helped motivate me to push through. Then I finally made it – I was the first in my family to graduate college.

Thinking back on it, I think the reason I was drawn to teaching was because I wanted to help students like me. I wanted to show them that there is hope, and that there is a way out. I want to teach others about the importance of education, and how it can make a huge difference in one’s life. But I also want to help students navigate that experience.

So, that’s how I ended up in TFA, in the classroom, and finally a student here at HGSE.

I think I’ve posted this before, or at least linked to it, but I love it so much I’ll post it again. This is when I told my mom I was accepted into HGSE. I hadn’t even told her I applied. I think in a lot of ways, we both never even thought about this being a possibility.

I don’t know what the next stage in my life will be but now I know anything is possible.

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6 thoughts on “Started from the Bottom and Now I’m Here

  1. Your story is truly touching and I think you are a very fortunate young woman to have been able to do so much with your life. And this is just the beginning!

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  2. This was such a touching and heartfelt story–very inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. I wrote something similar on my blog about my past experience and was uneasy about sharing personal anecdotes. After reading your post, I am happy that I did. Thank you for being so brave and generous in sharing, and congratulations on all of your continued success!

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    • Aw, I’m glad it made you feel better! I know what you mean about sharing personal anecdotes. I felt really uneasy at first about opening up about my experiences. In some ways it was a cultural thing – what happens in the home stays in the home, no one needs to know about it. Over the years, though, I’ve found that if no one talks about these things, then nothing is really changing. Personally, it’s actually helped me cope. It always makes me feel better, too, when I find out I’m not alone.

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