I was born in Mexico, and my mom crossed the border with us when I was just two years old to give us a better life. I often say that I’m who I am today because I grew up poor and humble. My life hasn’t been without challenges, but I have had opportunities and made choices that have helped me create a successful path for myself.

I graduated from high school in 2014 and knew that my status as an undocumented immigrant would make going to college difficult. I enrolled at City Colleges of Chicago and received a scholarship through a program offered then at Truman College, the Transitional Bilingual Learning Community (TBLC). The program’s advisor, Carlos Martin Llamazares, was so skilled at supporting undocumented students like me.

My TBLC scholarship covered much of my first year of college, but a difficult domestic violence situation, combined with the added stressors of related court appearances, made college difficult. It was a season of great struggle, and I dropped out. In 2020, I took a big leap and re-enrolled at City Colleges.

In the beginning, it honestly felt like I couldn’t start over. Being undocumented, I don’t qualify for federal financial aid like grants or loans. I had a low grade point average (GPA) from my first college experience, which made scholarships hard to secure, and I could only afford part-time classes.

Determined to find a college advisor who “got” me, I made many phone calls until I found my amazing advisor, Pier Underwood-King, at Wright College. I worked hard in my classes hoping to raise my GPA and qualify for scholarships. To reach my goals, I needed a plan and a strong support system. When I received an email about applying to City Colleges of Chicago Foundation – PepsiCo Foundation’s Uplift Scholarship, I was excited to see its emphasis on supporting Black and Hispanic/Latinx students with the goal of creating economic opportunities and a society that promotes equality of opportunity.

In 2021, I met Meagan Turner, a project coordinator for the PepsiCo Foundation Uplift Scholarship program, and she connected me with resources. I couldn’t believe it when the City Colleges of Chicago Foundation told me I got the scholarship! It removed such a huge barrier to earning my associate degree.

With the finish line approaching last spring, I didn’t plan to attend a four-year university because I couldn’t afford it. As a first-generation immigrant, I am a big support to my family, and I felt my only option was full-time work. But my advisor, Ms. Underwood-King, encouraged me to picture the future. She said, “You can do this—apply to all the universities you dream of. Manifest it.”

I applied to universities across Chicagoland, and as the acceptance letters arrived, so did the scholarships. But they didn’t cover the full cost of attendance. Once again, Ms. Underwood-King was there with advice. She told me to appeal to the colleges and request larger financial aid awards.

I walked into the financial aid office at DePaul University and said, “I can’t afford to go here, but it’s my dream school. Please help me.” My appeal led to a full ride scholarship!

That began a summer full of more opportunities than I could ever imagine. I participated in a Google computer science apprenticeship program at Northeastern Illinois University, where my team created a website connecting undocumented students to support. Google was so pleased with it that they offered me a full-time role in computer engineering.

Then, while finishing my final class at Truman College this summer, I received an email from Meredith Gallo-Murphy, the director of career planning and placement there, highlighting a job opportunity at the Mayor’s Office of Chicago.

It was surreal just to interview for the position, and I still can’t believe I was selected from such a competitive hiring pool to work for Mayor Lori Lightfoot. I split my time as the executive assistant to the Deputy Mayor of Business and Economic Development, Samir Mayekar, and the executive assistant to the Deputy Mayor of Infrastructure, Lori Ann Lypson.

I felt like my life had come full circle when I took photos with Mayor Lightfoot in early October of 2022, marking Hispanic Heritage Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My position here is the opportunity of a lifetime—I work with different departments, meet interesting people, serve Chicago’s neighborhoods, and learn new skills to help further my career.

So much has happened, but I can’t wait to walk across the stage at City Colleges’ commencement next week to officially celebrate earning my associate degree. Next, I plan to finish my bachelor’s degree this summer at DePaul, earning a degree in business management with a minor in computer science. My advisor encouraged me to apply for a master’s degree, so I’ll begin a combined degree program in business this spring. If it all works well, I will earn my master’s in business in 2024.

Today, I firmly believe that my future holds more opportunity. I can’t believe how much my life has changed and hope City Colleges students know that supports and opportunities like these exist for them, too.