I Felt Like a Normal American Kid…Then Everything Changed

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The following post is part of a THINKPolicy series profiling IBM Dreamers and their personal stories. Their identities have been protected for confidentiality.

When I was growing up, my parents always pushed me to do well in school, to get involved and to give back to our community. I studied; I volunteered; I was in the gifted student program from elementary school through high school. My life growing up felt like any normal American childhood.

When it came to college—it was always an expectation that I would make it there, rather than a far-off dream. My parents didn’t go to college, and we were proud that I would be a first generation college graduate. I focused on my studies; I took AP classes, and during my junior year, I was excited to enroll in dual-credit classes through the local community college. My friends and I even went together to fill out the paperwork and get our schedules.

Then everything changed.

As I was filling out my information, I realized I didn’t have the paperwork that was required to enroll. I knew that my family had come to this country when I was four years old—over ten years prior to the day I sat in that community college admissions office, but I never realized that because I didn’t have the right documentation, all of the opportunities that I worked so hard for were now closed off. I went home after learning I wasn’t allowed to enroll—defeated and distraught. I wish I had been crying over a heartbreak like other 16 year olds but learning I couldn’t attend college hurt so much more… my entire future was at stake. My parents, too, were devastated.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my situation; I was afraid. Just a few days prior, I felt like I had the whole world ahead of me, and now I felt lost and hopeless. But I couldn’t give up. I found the courage to talk to a guidance counselor at my high school, who helped me find a way to enroll in those classes by filling out additional paperwork. I took the classes and graduated high school with honors, in the top 10% of my class, and even had the honor of giving the commencement speech at graduation. I applied to several universities and got accepted into all of them. I was eager to enroll full-time in college but knew that my situation was different than the classmates I had grown up with nearly my whole life.

Without the ability to apply for legal status (because there was no avenue to do so for someone in my situation), I couldn’t even apply for FASFA to qualify for student financial aid. My concerns as I pushed my way through college weren’t whether I would pass a class or do well on an exam—they were whether I could find a scholarship or the money to pay for the next semester of classes. The next concern was “what will I do after I graduate?” since I couldn’t work legally in the United States. Even though I was American in every way except paperwork, these were the types of challenges my situation required me to overcome.

I was able to support myself through my freshman year, and then the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was put into place. I applied as soon as I could, and my work permit arrived a few months later.

About a year ago, I started working at IBM for the Global Technology Services team. I work with clients to help design, build and run the foundational systems and services that the world relies on to help them better serve their own customers. I love my job, my work and my community.

DACA enabled me to finish school and become that first-generation college graduate I had strived to be. It enabled me to become an IBMer. It enabled me to contribute to the economy, and build a life for myself and my present and future family. It has allowed me to excel and grow in my position and be a part of the IBM community driving innovation and helping our clients succeed.

I am encouraging Members of Congress across this country to come together and find a way for people like me to stay in the United States permanently. My entire life I have felt American. I love this country and the ways I’m able to contribute to my community and the economy.

Check back for more IBM Dreamer stories, which will be published regularly on THINKPolicy in the coming weeks and months. Read last week’s story here.

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