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An interview with Alex, SLI scholar

Scholars Latino Initiative scholar Alex (Harrisonburg High School ’22, University of Virginia ’26) never planned to attend college in the US, but now hopes to study computer science at a prestigious university here. A restaurant server, writer, and member of the National Honor and Spanish National Honor Societies, Alex is poised for an academically packed senior year.

When did you decide you wanted to go to college?
As a kid, you always want to be a doctor. I remember when I was in first, second grade saying that I was going to be a doctor. But now that I’m an adult, I’m afraid of needles and I don’t like seeing other people’s blood, so I’m better off using computers.

I didn’t know that I wanted to go to college until probably 6th or 7th grade. That was when I was back in my country, El Salvador. I just said that I was going to go to the university, but I never thought that I was going to be able to. 

But then in 2018 everything changed for my brother and me, because my mom decided that we had to come to the US. My dad had come to the US when I was four, so he could give us a better life. Then he got sick, and my mom was like, “It’s now my duty to move to the US and be giving you guys the life that you guys deserve.” She was going to come by herself, but then my cousin called her and said, “Hey, just wait one month, and then we’re going to help you” to bring my brother and me. My mom returned home and waited, and a month later she told us we were moving to the US next month. 

It was never in my plans to come to the US. I had thought I would live my whole life in El Salvador, but it didn’t happen.

What has been your high school experience?
I didn’t know English when I came to the US during my freshman year, so they put me in 9th grade even though I was supposed to be a sophomore.

Sophomore year I actually started taking regular classes and honors classes, and I joined a few clubs, including SLI. I almost dropped my Honors history class, but I didn’t, and got a 103% in the class. It made me more confident with taking more difficult classes, because I know that I can do it if I really want to. 

In my junior year I took two Advanced Placement (AP) classes and two dual enrollment classes for college credit, and honors classes as well. My GPA was 4.1

I could have graduated last year, because I only needed two classes, but I decided to stay so I could boost my GPA and take more AP and dual enrollment classes, and make my resume stronger so I can show colleges what I’ve done with only several years in the US. 

For my senior year I am taking three AP classes (physics, government, and Spanish literature) and two dual enrollment classes (calculus and English). I’ll also continue working and doing community service, so I can give back to the community. I’ve already signed up for different community service opportunities that are happening this upcoming month.

How did you join SLI?
In my freshman year they handed out SLI information in my government ESL class. I filled it out, and wrote my essay that we’re supposed to write, and I then handed it back to Ms. Bowman. I was like, “I just came to the US. I’m probably not at the same level as the other kids applying, so I’m definitely not getting in,” but I got in.

SLI introduced me to ways to give back to the community and help the community become a better place. I didn’t know how to give back to the community when I was a freshman, but SLI introduced me to different things, like volunteering at Waterman Elementary School with Amigos Unidos. That gave me a different view of things, and led me to sign up for more community service opportunities.

What about computer science interests you?
I like all the mystery there is behind computers, how they actually work, and all the impact they are going to have on the future, and the impact that they’re having right now on us. It gives me goosebumps just trying to learn how everything works in them.

Since I was a kid I was really curious about everything. If I need to know something, I’m actually going to look for it, and if I want to learn something, I’m not going to be okay until I learn it, until I’ve mastered it.

Back in El Salvador, I had a camera and a computer that my cousin left for me. My favorite show was about magic, so I looked up how to do all the visual effects, and by 12 years old I was recording myself doing magic tricks and editing them using visual effects. My videos were not good, but they were not bad, either – kind of good. I could make things disappear and reappear at a different place, making it look smooth, like it actually happened.

I took AP computer science principles this past year, and got 100% in the class. 

You’re also a writer?
One of my biggest goals is to publish a book and make an impact on readers. When I was 15 I created a cover for a book that I was going to write, and the whole plot, and I actually wrote it. It has 25 chapters, with around 2,000 words per chapter. That was the first book that I wrote. 

There was one trilogy that I was going to write, like Hunger Games and Harry Potter mixed together. I developed the plot for the three books, but I didn’t end up writing them. I actually have lots of drafts of different books that I want to write, more than 20, more than 30 drafts. 

What has kept you motivated?
My family, and mainly my mom. I was doing everything because of them, because I wanted to make them proud. My mom didn’t finish grade school or anything like that, and she didn’t go to high school, and I feel like it would be disrespectful for them if I didn’t keep going, pushing myself to be better, to give them a future they deserve. 

I want my brother to see me as a role model. I want him to know that if he wants something, he can do it. He just has to believe that he can do it and he will.