In 4th grade, my favorite teacher, Ms. Jimena, a name I will never forget, announced she was leaving to teach at an all-boys private school. Apparently seeing potential in me, she asked my mother if she was interested in sending me there as well. My mother enthusiastically said yes.
When I was told I would be leaving Bryant elementary, I vividly remember feeling confused and honestly distraught about two things.
One, I was never going to see my friends again. And Two, I was never going to see a girl again.
My mom could only tell me that this was a great opportunity, although in hindsight, we didn’t know what that meant.
My parents are incredibly supportive, wonderful, and hard-working individuals. They are immigrants who came to this country to pursue their “American Dream” – which to them meant giving their children the power to define their own futures. They just didn’t know how to make that possible. With the support of Ms. Jimena and Cathedral School for Boys, I also entered SMART that same year.
SMART feels like no other organization or community that I know. While their goals are similar to other programs, it’s the internal peer-support – I call it “therapy group” - and their special attention to us as individuals that changed everything for me. We are in an environment filled with peers in similar situations to deal with this HUGE transition together. My class, in particular, witnessed a lot of organizational change and growth within SMART—specifically when they launched their College Access Program. I think it says a lot that, when given the opportunity to stay with SMART through high school, we all jumped at the chance to stay connected.
The support that SMART gave me was crucial to developing my academic and personal confidence and if it wasn’t for the staff, I know one hundred percent that I would not be here. For example, last year, I learned about the challenges of being a first-generation college student. Only 24% of us are expected to graduate college. That information alone would have been disheartening if it wasn’t for the fact that SMART coupled this workshop with ways to leverage our own strengths and provided us with tools to ensure our success.
Through SMART’s College Tours program, I visited over 20 colleges throughout California. Being on an actual college campus helped all of us envision ourselves as college students, and that felt so exciting. One sunny and excruciating hot day in SoCal, we walked onto a UC campus and I just felt IT. “IT” is so hard to explain in words, but my gut feeling told me that this was the school for me. Doing more research on their rigorous academics, support services, and discovering an Ethnic Studies program – my favorite class in high school this year – solidified my belief. SMART calls it my “AHA” moment.
While the values of SMART are too many to list here, one of the most important lessons SMART taught me was that I deserve all of the experiences I have had, that I belong in the schools that may sometimes feel unattainable, and that all the struggles and baddies I have faced was worth it.
I will leave SMART with the confidence that I am ready for the real world. .I am proud of myself for thriving in an environment where I didn't have a financial advantage, and where I was the first person to go through the process of considering college in my family. I was blessed to have the added pressure of having a sibling a grade below me who is observing very attentively my pursuit of higher education. I aspire to be a role model for him and even my future children.
Thank you mom and dad, who could not be here tonight because they have to work. Your sacrifices, sweat and tears will not go unnoticed and I will work hard to be your American Dream. Also, because she’s not here, I will tell you that my mom is always right and the smartest woman I know.
My name is Alfredo Rodas, I am a graduating senior from Urban High School, a proud graduate of Cathedral School for Boys and Bryant Elementary School, and I will be attending my first choice school - UC Riverside – next year.