When I was a senior in high school, I felt confident that my unwavering work ethic would guarantee me a spot in any college I had my heart set on. By all means, I considered myself a competitive candidate. I had above-average grades, worked a weekend job and completed multiple internships in Oakland. I felt that my unique experiences as a first-generation student combined with my tenacity for going above and beyond would make great college application material.
When the time came to start applying, I poured out my heart in essays and prayed I would get into UC Berkeley, as it had always been my dream school. The No. 1 public university in the world had been calling my name since I went on a school field trip to its campus in sixth grade and fell in love with the trees, the people and the city.
I felt confident that I’d get in throughout middle and high school until acceptance letters started rolling in. A few weeks into waiting, I received my first acceptance letter to San Francisco State University. I was glad, but it wasn’t where I wanted to go, so I just took the win and moved on to focus on other schools. Then some of my friends got into UC Davis, then into UC Irvine. But UC Davis was quick to deny me, and even sent out my rejection letter a day early. I panicked. I began second-guessing my application materials and lamented not taking on more in high school. Maybe I should have played more sports or studied abroad in a variety of different places. As my educational future grew increasingly uncertain, I was forced to face the fact that I may have to compromise.
UCLA was the next to deny me, but I told myself that I wouldn’t have wanted to move out to Los Angeles, so it was alright. I even told myself it was alright when I didn’t get into UC Irvine because it was also too far. But then San Diego State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and California State University, Northridge rejected me too. All of my efforts in high school seemed to go unnoticed. About February, I was already mentally preparing myself to receive a rejection letter from UC Berkeley too.
UC Berkeley sends out their admission letters all the way until March 31, but at this point in my life, I had already given up hope. My grades started to go left, my attendance at school was nearly nonexistent and my passion for boxing began to blur. I started calling out of work to stay home and dwell. I felt like I had worked hard these past four years for nothing, like all of my future goals now seemed unattainable.
I had accepted the fact that I was attending Merritt College in the fall and had already started my application with my college counselor. When March 31 came around, UC Berkeley sent out their admission letters. A lot of my friends received their letters in class, and I kept refreshing my email but nothing showed. Although I wasn’t holding out hope for an acceptance letter, a part of me just wanted to know the results, no matter if they were good or bad. The feeling of not knowing weighed heavily on me.
The next day, I refreshed my email once again and saw an email from UC Berkeley. My heart pounded as I clicked the email devoid of confetti. As my eyes glossed over the words in the email, I gathered that I’d been waitlisted. Cool. At the time, I thought I was not going to get in. There was simply no way, and it was fruitless to keep imagining that I would lie down on Memorial Glade before class until the Campanile signaled my departure. The emotional turmoil of receiving a combination of acceptance and rejection letters made me feel as though I was a part of some on-again, off-again relationship with extreme highs and lows. I quickly closed the email and went on with my day. I didn’t bother telling my friends about it, or even my parents. I just knew I wasn’t going to get in. I had given up and forgotten why I was doing all of this in the first place. I went on with my day.
Then one Sunday evening, I was mindlessly watching Animal Planet with my dad, and he broke the silence between us with an important message: He told me how he wished he were a bird so that he could go back to Mexico. It was a simple statement, but it was a statement that came out of the blue, that flooded my mind with thoughts the moment I heard it. I began to remember that my dad deserves a break; my mom deserves a break; and they both deserve a lot more than they have. I couldn’t believe that I was being so pessimistic about my failures when my parents had always taught me to look on the bright side of things. They had taught me to be resilient and to believe in myself.
A few days after my conversation with my dad, I decided to open up my letter from UC Berkeley. I scrolled to the bottom and began to type in the appeal section of the letter. I wrote about the adversities that I had faced throughout my time in high school and in my life. I wrote about my parents’ struggles, about how they are the reason I do this and the reason why I am so resilient. I made sure that the admissions officer who would read my appeal letter would know that I was resilient enough to make it through UC Berkeley successfully.
On May 7, I received my second letter from UC Berkeley. I was in Alameda with my mom, enjoying some pho. When I clicked on the email, my screen was overcome with confetti, and I could hardly contain my excitement. I looked up to my mom and flipped my phone to face her. Her face lit up, and we laughed and hugged. I couldn’t believe I got in. In fact, I still can’t believe it sometimes, but I’m here, and I keep my parents in mind as well as the objectives that I’ve set for myself to keep me motivated.
I came to learn that my senior year in high school made me exercise my resilience. It tested my strength and character, and I came out an even better and stronger student and person at the end of it. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I didn’t get into any other college besides the No. 1 public university in the world. … and I still can’t explain it, so I came to the conclusion that it just had to be God’s plan.
Genesis Alejo writes the Friday column on being a first-generation student. Contact her at [email protected]