I recall that bus ride coming from a college trip and where for the first time I discovered that I was undocumented, and what it meant to be undocumented. My high school college advisor and I began a normal conversation and I ended up telling her my story of how I arrived to New York from Colombia at the age of eight. It was this conversation that led up to the talk of documentation and when she asked me if I had any “papers”, I told her that I didn’t. She sadly responded that without any formal papers, I would be ineligible for any type of government financial assistance and that my possibility of attending college could be unreachable. Since that moment I felt lost, perplex, hopeless and worthless. I wanted to quit because I found no point in continuing high school if I was not going to attend college, which was my dream and my mom’s. No one had ever told me this and I didn’t know who was going to help from then on. However, as I contemplated it on this event, something inside of me told me that I couldn’t give up just like that so easily and not even attempt something to overcome this obstacle. For the next two decisive years I did a lot of the college and scholarship research on my own and with the unconditional help from my teachers and my counselor. They guided me through the process because they saw the desire in me to attend college and they witnessed my hard work, as well as my appreciation for education. Although they were not experts in this situation because they had not dealt with many undocumented students before, they did their best and I felt very fortunate to have them. Through a lot of frustration, tears, moments of hopelessness, disillusions, but with a lot of hope, support and confidence, I made it and I am currently attending Lehman College with honors. I was awarded four scholarships because of my community service, great academic achievement and involvement in the school community. Until this day I’m still in awe that I made it to the place that two years ago I saw unreachable. I also know that thousands of undocumented students are frustrated like I was, and don’t see the light. That is why I decided to volunteer at the NYSYLC College Clinic.
When I first heard of this program that the NYSYLC had launched to support high school students regardless of their immigration status, I was thrilled, happy and wished someone had created a program like this when I was in high school. Even though I had a great support system, one that helped me to get where I am, at times I felt alone and that no one truly understood the aggravation and desperation I was feeling. That is why I also decided to volunteer at this event, to let students know that there is hope and that the frustration they might feel at times is just a test to see how strong and motivated they are. Another thing I wanted to tell the students is that being undocumented is difficult and there are limitations, however they must be self-motivated because that’s the way of demonstrating others and yourself that you’re not going to give up.
Through my college application process I discovered that if you don’t motivate yourself, no one else will. Once the teachers and staff of the school see how much you desire to succeed and become a better person, the more they will offer a hand and be willing to help you. Filled with excitement I arrived at the clinic ready to share my story and the resources that helped me get to college with the students who seemed eager to receive the information the event was going to provide. CUNY representative Ms. Donna Gill, who is a Student Record Specialist at Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, was a special guest that evening to give tons of useful information to the pupils, information that probably otherwise they would never get. When she began talking about the CUNY process I could relate too many of the things she was saying and it made me travel back to when I was researching this information. As Ms. Gill answered all the student’s questions, I started thinking that if we had more people like her, things in the school system wouldn’t be as different.
Furthermore, I was able to share my story and tell them that it is possible to go to college, as long as they are willing to be committed, strong, confident and motivated. I told them about the scholarships I was awarded, how community service helped me earn these scholarships, and that I had recently change my mentality of applying to scholarships that required proof of legal documentation; I am going to apply to them, even if I get rejected. Moreover, little did I know that I was going to learn a few things myself. However, I was surprised to learn things I was never told during my high school. I never filled out the FAFSA because I thought it was useless since I don’t have a social security number, but Ms. Gill said that it is useful to do so especially for a scholarship call The Peter Vallone Scholarship for high school students regardless of documentation. When she said this I felt I lost something that could’ve helped me more to pay for the extra things required in college. Another thing was the in-state tuition, this wasn’t relative new, but when I was in high school no one ever told me that I could pay as an in-state student, this was something I found
out three days before validating my college courses. I was being charged almost four thousand
dollars, even with the scholarship the school was giving me this was difficult to pay. Thankfully a girl that I met at the NYSYLC informed me that I could pay in-state tuition just by showing my high school diploma and signing an affidavit declaring that when I had the chance to fix my undocumented situation I would. I felt relieve when Ms. Gill talked about this to the students because it’s very vital piece of information that every student needs to know, particularly undocumented students.
I would like to thank Ms.Gill sincerely for coming to the event and being so informative. Also, I’d like to thank the core members of the NYSYLC for creating a program like this because in reality not many exist, and if more people see the success of these events then hopefully more will be install in other locations to help more and more students. I would like to thank them for taking a time out and helping the students that need it the most and for providing resources that they won’t necessarily find in their high schools. Also I would like to give my respect to the students who came out on that freezing and snowy evening to get help with their CUNY application, resume and personal statement, and tell them that their ambition for bettering themselves was demonstrated through this action of coming to the clinic. I am very happy with myself for attending and for providing the words I wished someone had when I was in high school, and I truly hope they helped the pupils see that it is possible to accomplish a dream, even
when the rest of the community says no.
Being undocumented does not make us less than anyone else and we will prevail against all odds.
Viva los estudiantes! Y que Viva la Educacion!