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Student Commentaries: Fighting for an education
This October, Governor Jerry Brown attracted national attention when he signed the California DREAM Act. The bill – which passed on a party line vote – would allow undocumented immigrants who have attended California high schools access to state financial aid for college. State Assembly member Marty Block, along with other Democrats applauded the bill.
MARTY BLOCK: It will mean a whole generation of students will get an advanced education who otherwise would not have that opportunity.
The DREAM Act will increase access for some prospective students, but cost and life circumstances remain challenges that many students face. Youth Radio’s Robyn Gee spoke with Eliezer Guerrero, De Ashla Miller, and Jameil Butler to get their perspectives on access to education.
ELIEZER GUERRERO: My name is Eliezer Guerrero. I’m 18 years old. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and then I moved to Oakland, California, three years ago.
While I was in high school I was very eager to know that there were possibilities for people like me to go to college, especially since I saw my sister not being able to go to college due to her no legal status.
The first thing I did was to look how much they cost, so I made a budget, like budget planner. From there I saw the difference between San Francisco State and Dominican. I found out that SF State is less cost, for about the same education. Transportation is pretty expensive and travel from Oakland – it’s $8 a day, which is a lot of money.
I just have a list of everything I will be required to do in school, like to pay for tuition, books, the meal plan, if I there’s any emergencies, if I get hurt playing sports, pay for the insurance. That would really help me. That would be a good strategy.
In total my siblings – we’re seven. There were times when while I was in 12th grade when I would have to wake them up and make breakfast for them, and make sure they went to school clean, take a shower.
Most of the time, my mom takes care of my siblings. I do have time to study. In order for me to study I would have to stay after school at SF State in study hall or the library in order for me to have a quiet space.
There was never a time when I panicked. My mind was always set and – my ultimate goal was to go to college – and set an example for my siblings. I mean I wasn’t really worried due to the fact that I’m in the United States and every person in America has an American dream and my American dream is to one day graduate from a well-known college and become a veterinarian.
My little sister asks me sometimes, “So you’re going to college now right?” “Yeah.” “Are you excited?” Yeah I’m excited.
DE ASHLA MILLER: My name is De Ashla Miller, I grew up in Oakland, I’m from Oakland, and I go to Holy Names University.
During high school I always knew I wanted to go to college, and participated in extra curricular activities. Mostly in the medical field. I was always interning or doing some type of program, or volunteering at some type of hospital. So college was pretty much set in my mind, like that’s what I’m going to do because I knew I was going to be the first in my family to do…
Entering the third year I moved off campus because I got pregnant over the summer. I contemplated, like maybe I should just take a break from school, but I knew myself personally if I took a break then I wouldn’t go back…
I had my daughter during finals. In December – she came December 2nd – and I actually had a final that day, and I had a final the next day. I left against doctor’s orders to finish my finals. So I missed one, but the one the next day, after that I was like I’m totally not going to miss this, like I’m getting up, and the doctor was like, “No, you can’t go anywhere.” I’m like, “You know what? I have a final and I’m going to finish it.” So I left against doctor’s orders went and finished my final and went right back to the hospital with my daughter.
It’s just hard with her growing up. I can’t do homework absolutely at home at all – I have to do it at school or at Starbucks or something because it’s just really hard. She doesn’t like that unless she’s not here. It’s also when I see her it gives me all the more power and determination to do what I have to do…
Holy Names being that it being a private Catholic school, is really expensive. Their tuition is pretty close to Stanford’s tuition. We’re paying about room and board and tuition is running around $40,000 a year.
My budget is really, like really, really tight right now. But everything that needs to be done, like I say gets done first. That’s transportation to school, bills, things for my daughter. I’m going to support her in whatever decision that she decides to make, but also enforce that higher education is… I don’t want to say that it’s not an option, but it’s definitely a to-do, that’s definitely something that’s expected of her. I don’t want her to feel like you know, she’s a sad case, or that she has to struggle to get to where she’s going. I want things to be as easy as possible – easier than it was for me.
JAMEIL BUTLER: My name is Jameil Butler, I’m 25 years old. I attended Fresno State and just recently moved back to the Bay Area. I was out there from 2004 to 2011.
Well college was always pushed in my household, specifically my mother was a college graduate of San Jose State. My father is a well-known basketball coach in the area. So we were always into sports, me and my older brother, and that was going to be a way to get into college in terms of getting a free education with an athletic scholarship.
At one point, my friend attended barber college and he started earning money by cutting a lot of people’s hair. I seen the type of money he was making, and you know, you go to school for one to two years to learn a skill that you can take anywhere around the globe and get money and support yourself. It opened my eyes to trades. I kind of second-guessed it a little bit, but I knew that college was something that ultimately I always wanted to do.
I researched Fresno State, it was a good school, it was two hours away, so I was away, but I was still home if I needed to be home. When I moved away, my mind was still in Oakland and my body was in Fresno. My priorities were in Oakland they weren’t in Fresno, that’s why my grades suffered my first couple years. I still wanted to be cool, or perceived as cool, and I still wanted to be around my friends. I didn’t want them to think I was a sellout – these are all false perceptions that I learned later. I just wanted to be still accepted... I didn’t want to miss out on anything, all birthdays, all events, baby showers... I just didn’t want to be left out. Not really realizing that I’m not left out; I’m just doing me.
Personally it was a whole life change. Once I realized that school was my first priority, then it made decision-making easy. There wasn’t no more going back to Oakland because I didn’t have the gas. There wasn’t no more eating out because I had to learn how to cook to save money. It was school first.
I know what I’m up against – the economy. It’s just tough. It’s tough for everybody. It’s tough for people with masters degrees, it’s tough for people of all ethnicities, young, old... So who’s going to say it’s not going to be tough for me?
These commentaries were produced by Youth Radio’s Robyn Gee. And send us your own by clicking here. This story originally aired on October 12, 2011.