Finding My Freedom Through College

by Daniela Medina
Also Featured on KQED

Finding My Freedom Through College

by Daniela Medina
Also Featured on KQED
10.01.20
Photo courtesy of Daniela Medina
10.01.20

I loved books as a little girl. When others were playing, I was reading. I would get lost in stories and imagine the places I’d go when I grew up. I enjoyed learning new things and fell in love with the idea of going to college like the girls on TV. Except, they were different. I was different. As much as I loved school, the reality of my life and circumstances around me made it impossible to focus on school work. Plus, I didn’t know anyone who had been to college which made it seem completely out of reach. Even as I dropped out of my continuation high school and faced never-ending struggles as a teenage mom while experiencing trauma and setbacks, I never stopped reading. Reading was my escape.

It became my escape once again when I found myself locked up and feeling broken. While incarcerated, I passed my GED and it changed my perception of my ability to succeed in education. Some might have seen that as a small feat, but to me, it proved something — a path that didn’t seem available to me before, was possible. After getting my GED, I completed my AA degree while incarcerated. 

Then, I heard of a program at U.C. Berkeley called Underground Scholars that helps students impacted by incarceration transfer to a UC. That was my shot. I sat with my transfer coordinator for hours as he looked over my essays and pushed me to highlight more of myself. I got in. The program allowed me to see others who, like myself, had followed extremely non-traditional paths to higher education. I always knew I was smart and capable from the time I picked up a book. But it took this program to see that a fancy U.C. education isn’t just for “other” people. Now I’m a mentor to others seeking similar paths. 

I see so much of myself in the young women and girls with heavy spirits who think they’re damaged beyond repair. I think it’s so important for them to see that they can be whoever they want to be — that they can change the things they do without changing who they are. I hope my journey proves that.

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