I applied to The Daily Californian as an opinion columnist while I was living in a single dorm at Stern Hall. It was the beginning of spring semester, and I entered the new year anxious to do something that would have an impact on campus. I had a tough freshman year because I felt like everything on campus was against me. I was convinced that large institutions like UC Berkeley were not made for students like me, who are low-income, first-generation and are not well-informed about finances — and college in general. I was angry at myself, at the world and at UC Berkeley for a long time, but after feeling so frustrated for so long, I felt like I needed to be heard.
I went online and looked for groups, clubs and internships, anything and anywhere I could join to find a group that could help me voice myself on campus, to feel like I was part of something. I was tired of being on my own and feeling alone, and my single dorm wasn’t helping much either. I spent too much time in my head, and it eventually seemed like a problem once I started to isolate myself from any campus activities. I needed to find something where I felt I belonged, where I felt like what I was doing was meant for me.
One day, as I was walking through Sproul Plaza back to my dorm from class, I decided to grab the Daily Cal. I didn’t pick up the Daily Cal very often, so I felt like if I started to read it more often, I’d find a club that I could join. I didn’t even have to open it to see something that caught my attention: “APPLY TO THE DAILY CAL BY FEB. 7” was at the top of the first page. It was Feb. 5. I hurried all the way back to my dorm and worked on my application all night that night and then all day the next day, and managed to turn it in before the deadline.
I knew that if I got accepted to the Daily Cal, I needed to write about being a first-generation student at UC Berkeley. I wanted other first-generation students to feel like they weren’t alone, and I wanted to encourage them to keep pushing through, because that’s what I needed to hear when I was struggling on my own. I wanted to be there for those who felt like they needed someone to get them through tough and new experiences at UC Berkeley. I wanted to be there to tell incoming first-generation students that they can get through it, even when it feels like they can’t.
That night, after turning in my application, I got together with some of my close friends, Amin and Jocelyn, and talked about the objectives that we had for ourselves this year. I talked about what I’d write about and what my motives were if I were to get accepted to be an opinion columnist at the Daily Cal. We spoke about our objectives and motives, and after we finished our conversations, we all felt better and much more confident about what we wanted to accomplish this year. Like me, Amin and Jocelyn are first-generation students, and they had encouraged me to apply to the Daily Cal. They agreed with me that the voices and struggles of first-generation students needed to be emphasized on campus.
On Valentine’s Day, I received an email from the Daily Cal accepting me to be an opinion columnist, and I felt accomplished and thankful. I have loved being able to freely write about being a first-generation student at UC Berkeley. Every time someone stopped me on campus to tell me that I inspired them or that they were thankful I was voicing issues on being a first-generation student, I felt like I was doing something right. Words can’t express how thankful I am for having the opportunity to be part of the Daily Cal’s opinion department.
Genesis Alejo writes the Friday column on being a first-generation student. Contact her at [email protected]