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The National Immigrant Solidarity Network (NISN) is a coalition of immigrant rights, labor, human rights, religious, and student activist organizations from across the country. We work with leading immigrant rights, students and labor groups. In solidarity with their campaigns, and organize community immigrant rights education campaigns.

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8/24: A College Dream Ends Too Soon
Released 26 August 2009  By K. Gonzalez

College Dream Ends Too Soon
I worked hard to get into Berkeley and I worked even harder when I got there.

But when my funds ran out, I had to leave.

By K. Gonzalez | Kaplan College Guide

Aug 12, 2009
In the spring of 2008, I sat at my high-school graduation ceremony, wearing my
navy-blue robes, with every stole and honorary pin achievable, looking every
bit like the overachiever that I am. My enthusiasm surely made me look like a
typical graduate. But my future appeared very different from that of my
classmates. I am an undocumented person. Six months after I was born, my family
emigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles illegally—with little more than one
suitcase but great hopes for the future. My parents wanted to give their two
daughters opportunities that weren't available back home.

Still, for most of high school, one opportunity seemed like a farfetched dream.
Though I had a great deal of support from many different people, nobody seemed
sure how I could navigate the system to gain a college education. Information
on all aspects of that process was sketchy, so I was stepping onto an unmarked
path. It was difficult to live without any assurance that high school would
lead, as it would for most of my classmates, to the next stage. I found solace
in my studies. I took seven AP classes to test my abilities as a student and
delighted in the fact that I could walk into AP English ready to dissect a
Shakespeare play. I played the cello to calm my soul, dreaming of a place where
music filled the air. I joined my school's leadership ranks and took pride in
my ability to motivate people. And I joined clubs that enabled me to give back
to a place I loved, organizing two toy drives and devoting more than 300 hours
to community service.

Every activity allowed me to cling to some sense of normalcy in a life that was
changing. My parents' marriage had begun to crumble, slowly and painfully. I
had to learn to stand on my own, to be accountable to myself. School felt safe,
and I was fortunate to have a support system in a special program for
economically disadvantaged students who hoped to attend college. Every student
in the program had a story of hardship, so I no longer felt quite so alone and
isolated in my struggle.

I eventually came up with a small list of possible colleges—state schools
that I might be able to afford or schools that offered scholarships for
undocumented students. That April, I received my acceptance to UC Berkeley, and
soon after, a few small scholarships. It was a bittersweet triumph. Though I
was qualified to attend the best public university in the nation, I couldn't
afford it. My funds barely totaled $5,000, only about one semester's tuition.
Still, I wanted to attend my dream school for at least that first semester. So
after graduation I hopped on a Greyhound bus with two suitcases and headed to

I found a tiny room near the campus, enrolled in classes, and landed a job
selling jewelry in a San Francisco mall. From Friday through Monday, I worked
full-time, waking up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work by 9. I couldn't spend the
weekends like other students, lazing in the sun or exploring neighborhoods.

Still, for two glorious days each week, Tuesday and Thursday, I had classes
from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was taught by some amazing professors. I would run
from one class to the next, using my breaks to stop by the library. I slept odd
hours, many days finishing homework at the crack of dawn. I was very well
organized. Wednesday was the day I took care of business—everything from food
shopping to laundry to paying bills.

Surprisingly, I found time to make friends and, perhaps more surprisingly,
mostly with political conservatives. They proved to be remarkably open-minded,
and I loved their outlandish conversations and unabashed candor. They never
questioned my odd hours, nor did I offer to explain. They apparently believed
that I was simply another workaholic. Perhaps not so "simply," but I was a
workaholic for sure. I had no choice.

As expected, my funds ran out right after that first semester, forcing me to
leave that very special school. I am back home now and attending community
college. And I am back on the same taxing schedule—two days of classes and
four days of work. My goal is to save some money while finishing up my
associate's degree. I still enjoy school, but dream about someday attending
Berkeley again.

Find this article at
© 2009

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