It was a bittersweet moment to graduate from UC Berkeley last month.
My degree came after a hard-fought journey that started with my application to get in. I was initially denied admission, but when I appealed with a persuasive letter about my academics with references from teachers, I was finally accepted.
It took me five years to complete my undergraduate studies. At different points I lost financial aid, or couldn’t get courses I needed. Semester after semester I would find myself overwhelmed with the responsibilities of school, and also maintaining a job to help support my family. It wasn’t easy, and things even got to a point where I questioned my ability to finish school at all.
In my experience at Berkeley, it seems that the struggle getting to the finish line is a recurring theme. One of my closest friends couldn’t continue past his sophomore year because he couldn’t get the support he needed and his family was far away. A roommate my junior year also dropped out after struggling academically. Stories like these surrounded me my five years in college while I was struggling myself.
I was lucky enough to have a support system keeping me on track including a family member — my brother — who attended Berkeley also, and graduated in 2011.
He told me about resources I wouldn’t have found on my own, like the EOP office that helps low-income and first-generation students.
Part of what kept me motivated to finish school was knowing that as a Latino student who was succeeding I was proving the numbers and the institution wrong.
I spent as little time as I could in administrative offices and as much time as I could learning from professors and my peers instead. Walking across that stage represented more than just completing my degree. For me, it was symbolic. I was never supposed to walk across that stage. I’d like to think that as I walked, I carried with me hopes and dreams of those who never got the chance to finish school and graduate.