John Handley High School ’21
William & Mary ’25 (public health with a data science focus)
Growing up, education was one of my main concerns. As a first-generation low-income student, I was more focused on basic needs like money, housing, and food. I faced countless obstacles, including growing up in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and constantly being in survival mode. Despite these challenges, I always found solace in books and education. I don’t share my story for pity, but rather as a source of empowerment and to help others who have been through similar situations.
I am not the oldest in my family, but out of my seven siblings, I am the first to attend college. I understood from the start that I had to be a role model for my younger siblings, as my older siblings faced difficulties due to the circumstances we grew up in. So, it was up to me to navigate college independently, discover which organizations and clubs to get involved in, and figure out the process of applying for financial aid through FAFSA.
My first inclination to pursue higher education arose when I enrolled in the gifted program during my elementary school years. The teachers and individuals in the program served as my primary sources of inspiration. Through their guidance, I acquired crucial information, enhanced my public speaking skills, attended mandatory meetings, and engaged in volunteer work with children.
Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) significantly facilitated my path towards accessing college education. Not only did the program equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me. Often, students from underrepresented backgrounds experience feelings of displacement or inadequacy. I would say SLI encouraged me to apply for other Hispanic college programs, volunteer opportunities, and colleges because it made me feel worthy of these opportunities.
When it came to selecting a college, I faced challenges as self-doubt crept in while filling out applications. Additionally, I found myself torn between the idea of venturing far away or remaining in Virginia. In the end, I made the decision to stay in Virginia and exclusively applied to schools within the state. Despite receiving a full-ride offer from my dream school, Washington & Lee, I ultimately chose William & Mary. Interestingly enough, I applied to W&M on a whim at the last minute and ended up being accepted as a W&M scholar, which granted me a full tuition and fees scholarship.
I am grateful that I chose to further my studies at W&M because they provided me with an abundance of resources that I never imagined possible. During my first year, I had to withdraw for medical reasons, but the school was incredibly supportive. They offered networking opportunities, organizations like the First Generation and Low Income Group, WMSURE (which is part of the W&M scholars program), academic support, and mental health resources.
Unlike high school, where I had to work full time and balance multiple responsibilities, I no longer have to do that because W&M meets 100% of demonstrated need. I am particularly thankful that SLI taught me that it’s okay to ask for help because at W&M, everyone is always willing to offer support. Currently, I am working towards my undergraduate degree in public health with a focus on data science. I have upcoming meetings and internship opportunities lined up. In the future, I hope to pursue research in Latino health disparities or become a public health analyst after completing graduate school. I will forever be grateful to SLI for believing in me when nobody else did.