Education has always been important to me — it is one of the main reasons why I decided to migrate to the United States. When I figured out what I wanted to do professionally, I decided to put all my energy into achieving that goal. My dream is to become a structural engineer so that I can design and build bridges. I knew school was going to be hard in terms of the workload, and expensive when it came to tuition. However, no one told me that in addition to these challenges, I was going to be faced with constantly proving my worth as a human being, that I would have to explain and defend my humanity to individuals and institutions, over and over.
I am a person who is undocumented. A person who, like many other people, has been forced to leave their hometown due to the lack of opportunity, with the hopes of creating a better life. Navigating the education system has been interesting to say the least. I started my education journey at a local community college, where I obtained my GED. There I also got a taste of what the “college experience” would look like for me. When I met up with an advisor to plan the path to reach my goal, I was told that as an undocumented person I had no right to go to college. This type of rejection was not new to me. Previously in my life, my immigration status had prevented me from professional growth. Nonetheless, I had to take the risk to be honest and open about my situation to avoid being pointed in the wrong direction.
Consequently, I decided to look into North Seattle College (NSC), where I found not only a vast amount of resources, but a community of knowledgeable people. Usually the responsibility of assisting minorities falls on a few people, making the assistance limited. At NSC, this was not different, yet I feel grateful for the small amount of people there who had done their homework. I am particularly thankful for the academic advisors. They proactively informed me of resources, such as financial aid, scholarships, counseling, as well as the benefits and risks that come in these processes.
For the most part, my time at NSC was pleasant. It definitely became more intense as the time to make preparations to transfer to a university approached. The process of applying to college is intricate on its own. It was new to me and especially overwhelming due to the barriers presented by my status. Additionally, while I was working on these applications, the political climate had started to intensify towards a more negative direction. Racist and hateful practices were starting to be normalized. All over, fear and uncertainty started to increase.
In my life, I have encountered and overcame difficult experiences. However, I had never experienced anxiety and stress in the way that I was experiencing it around this time. At this point, I was referred by a dear friend of mine to Seattle Education Access (SEA). At first, I was hesitant to contact SEA because I thought things would not be different, but I realized I had nothing to lose. I called SEA and met Penny Lipsou, an Education Advocate. Once again, I had to go to through the exhausting process of explaining my situation to a stranger with scarce hopes of finding actual help. However, here is where my college experience changed in a way I did not expect.
Penny is an amazing human being. She actively listened and let me know that she was there to help in any way I needed. To be honest, in the beginning I was skeptical of how much she wanted to help. This sense of doubt came from previous experiences where all I encountered were doors slammed in my face. Penny’s kindness, values, and hard work ethic, along with her resourcefulness and reliability, were a few elements that encouraged me to keep coming back to build trust with her. As we worked together more, I mentioned to Penny the importance of finding resources available to undocumented students in universities.
Penny went with me to visit university campuses. With her by my side, I felt supported going through this process, which I had greatly feared previously. The process of applying to college was extremely stressful. It seemed that on each application, I was essentially explaining the worthiness of my existence to institutions that have not been designed for undocumented students to succeed. In the process of working on these applications, I started experiencing intense self-doubt and high levels of anxiety. Thanks to Penny, I became aware of my mental health. She provided me with resources that are now allowing me to navigate and define what self-care looks like to me.
Multiple times, I have mentioned the positive impact that the work Penny is doing through SEA has made in my life. I know I am the one doing the work, but I am only able to do the work because Penny has my back. Thanks to Penny’s support, I was able to complete my prerequisites and end my time at NSC with a 3.81 GPA. Currently, I am at Seattle University in the Civil Engineering program. My tuition has been fully covered by scholarships and grants. Penny has provided me with tools that have empowered me. These connections have increased my confidence and my level of comfort in being more open about my status.
Times are still tough. Undocumented communities have become a target for the new administration. With the termination of DACA, there is a lot of uncertainty within our community. I have been focusing my efforts on continuing the work that other undocumented students have started at Seattle University. In order to support my community, I have started the Scarlet Group – a peer support network for undocumented students and allies at Seattle University.
The priceless support that Penny and SEA have provided me has empowered me to work on my schoolwork to reach my goal of becoming an engineer. Furthermore, it has increased my motivation to help others in the future. I am grateful to have made that call to SEA and to have met Penny.
This holiday season, please consider a tax-deductible gift of $250, $100 or $50 or more to Seattle Education Access so over 800 young people across King County can follow their dreams. SEA is the only college access program in Washington serving students not in traditional high schools who are facing profound hardships. Their Education Advocates help us decide on a career, choose academic program, apply for school and funding, study for tests, get school supplies, and connect us to childcare and other resources. Most importantly, they believe in us.