Persevering to Success
As a woman of color, a Latina, an immigrant, there were many times throughout my high school and college years where I thought I wasn’t going to “make it.” College, and the path to college, were not only foreign to me, but challenging to navigate through.I often felt I had expectations from my family, my community and society, that I had to meet. And on top of that, there were always financial challenges that made my college experience that much harder to navigate through.
After struggles, mistakes, and frustrating moments, I “made it,” and today I want to share some of the knowledge I learned along the way. My name is Dalia Pedro Trujillo, a third year law student at Gonzaga University School of Law, a future attorney, and someone who wants to help other students reach their dreams. I graduated from Highline High School in 2012, and from Saint Martin’s University in 2016. I double majored in history and political science, with minors in international relations and French. After college I moved to Casper, Wyoming, where through the work I was doing with the immigrant community in Wyoming I decided to pursue a career in the legal field and moved back to Spokane for law school.
I want to focus on three topics that helped me get to where I am today. First, I want to focus on how to navigate the financial struggles that we face as students of color and as first gen students. Second, I want to focus on the importance of finding an area of study you’re passionate about. Lastly, I want to talk about taking chances, and the importance of putting yourself out there.
As a student, I was not eligible for financial aid, and my parents were not able to help me pay for school. As a result, I funded my college education through scholarships and by working multiple jobs on campus.
One of the most stressful times in college was the second semester of my first year. I had been able to acquire enough scholarships to pay for my first year of college in full, but in order to be able to afford my second year I needed to find about $15,000 or so. Money that I definitely didn’t have laying around. Not only was I dealing with the stress of trying to figure out how I was going to find that amount of money, but I also didn’t feel like this was something I could share with my friends and/or classmates. I just didn’t think this was something they would understand, or even care about. I often felt like I was on an edge, not fully able to enjoy my college experience because I had this really heavy weight hanging over me.
Even through some of those dark times, I didn’t lose hope. And that’s what I want you to remember. We also face struggles, and financial struggles are the worst. But don’t give up. I continued to search and apply for scholarships, and looked for opportunities that would help me pay for school.
In the end, I found my answer by applying to be a Resident Assistant for upcoming school year. Most schools have a similar program, where in exchange for room and board you become a leader and mentor for students who live on campus and get assigned a specific area to live in. In all honesty, I didn’t get the position right away. I was wait-listed, and I was devastated. I knew that without the position, my chances of being able to attend that upcoming year were slim. But by chance, someone decided to not take the position, and I was offered their spot. While this position didn’t fix all of my problems, I had multiple part-time jobs on campus during both my junior and senior year of college, it was a good reminder that giving up is not an option.
Passion v. Degree
I entered college as a math major. I had been involved with math club throughout high school, and I thought a STEM degree was the path I had to follow because it would be a more practical degree. And then I took my first calculus class, and I hated it. Not just because the class was tough, but because it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t passionate about the subject itself. Turns out, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had made myself believe all those years in high school. And the worst part? I have made my college plans around being a math major, and I didn’t know what else I would do. I was devastated. I legit felt like a failure, like I was letting down my community in some way.
In trying to figure out how to navigate this uncertainty and sense of failure I decided to meet with my academic advisor, Dr. Mead, who offered some tough love, but he also gave me the tools necessary to figure out what it was I was passionate about. I remember breaking down in his office and crying because I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I remember he stared at me, and then offered some of the best advice I’ve been given. He told me to stop trying to do what other people wanted me to do. Or to follow expectations that weren’t mine. He told me in college I had the ability to discover what I was passionate about. He also recommended that I take courses in various subjects the following semester, and use those classes to figure out what it was I liked and cared about. And that’s exactly what I did. I signed up for classes in history, political science, sociology, french and religious studies. I loved those classes. I was engaged, I found the reading assignments fascinating, and I looked forward to going to class, most of the time.
Many times we’ll head into college thinking we’ll study to be a doctor, lawyer, business person, or something “practical.” And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as that’s something that you love and are passionate about. Don’t get trapped in pursuing a specific degree because it has career potential, if you love what you’re doing, it will work out.
Finally, I just want to reiterate the importance of taking chances. In going to college, you’re taking a chance. But don’t stop there, during your time in college you’ll have the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and learn new things, so don’t be afraid to take chances.
For example, during my junior year in college I was given the opportunity to apply for an intern position with Senator Cantwell’s office in Washington D.C. Like many students of color who deal with impostor syndrome, I didn’t think I was good enough of a student to get the internship, and I really doubted myself. Thankfully, CSF had my back, and I had mentors who helped me navigate the application process and who believed in me. That support gave me the courage to submit my application. I told myself that the worst that could happen was that they said no. Thankfully, they didn’t, and I spent the summer before my junior year seeing how Congress works.
That being said, I was terrified to head to D.C. I had never been to the East Coast and I was terrified to go live by myself, but I knew this was an amazing opportunity I couldn’t pass up. And I learned so much, and in going to D.C. I learned how much I loved the West Coast, and how much I preferred local politics.
So go out there and take chances. The CSF family is here to support you through your journey, so reach out and stay connected.