By Karen Ortiz
I was born 21 years ago in East San Jose, just months after my parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My mother and father couldn't pursue a higher education because they were working at a very early age to help support the family, but they wanted something different for me. From when I was 4 years old my father began saying to me, "Mija, the only thing I can give you in this world is an education." He wanted me to go to college. His words would change my life.
Before I was even in kindergarten, the thought of college was planted in my mind. I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but my father made me feel as though it were a gift. At first, I didn't understand why I needed to go. After all, no one else in my family had. My parents told me how important it was for me to be independent and be able to support myself, and they said that going to college would give me the best chance.
But when I started school, I didn't hear much about college. It was only after I enrolled at private Notre Dame High School, thanks to a scholarship from the East Side Heroes program, that I began to hear about it all the time. The conversations weren't about whether we were going to go but where we were going to go.
Soon, I began thinking about college not only as a way to make myself more independent but as a way that I could study for work that was meaningful to me. I thought about what else I might do in the world. By fall 2008, I was a high school graduate and an incoming freshman at Cal State East Bay.
I studied sociology because I wanted to work in a field where I would be improving the lives of people like those I grew up with. I also began to wonder why students at schools like Notre Dame should be the only ones thinking about college from when they were very young. All students should have that expectation, even those who don't have a dad like mine, telling them, "Mija, I want you to go to college."
That's why I'm going to be speaking with students at Santa Clara County's second annual College Day on Friday at a number of high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools, many in San Jose Unified School District. It's not enough for only high school guidance counselors to talk about college. It's got to be a team effort that includes parents and other family members and teachers from elementary school up. As I learned, even little kids need to hear loud and clear about the expectation that they will go to college.
If you have a savings plan and you know about scholarship programs, higher education is much more within reach than many students realize.
In June, I achieved my father's dream and mine. I earned a bachelor of arts in sociology. I plan to go to graduate school next fall, and I will give testimony to students in elementary school, middle school and high school that my dream is possible for all of them.
Karen Ortiz is the social media planner for Santa Clara County College Day co-sponsored by her employer, Kids in Common, a program of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.