Editor’s note: The writer, also known as the Oro Loma Nomad, recently gave a speech at the 2023 Latino graduation celebration of Fresno City College. Parts one and two were published in the May 17 and 24 Westside Express. This is the third and final part.
When Priscilla left off in part two, she had figured out how to be a student moving from Dos Palos High School to UC Santa Barbara. But as she points out, it wasn’t easy.
Despite my method for studying, there were some bumps along the way. For example, if I didn’t fully understand what the professor was saying, I would raise my hand and ask him or her to please clarify, or I would go speak to them after class.
If I missed a class due to illness or other unavoidable reasons, I would borrow the class notes from a classmate. If I missed a test or exam due to illness, I would contact my professors to let them know and to ask if I could take the test as soon as I was feeling better. They usually allowed me to do that, since they saw that I attended classes regularly and asked questions. In other words, they saw me as a serious student.
Another thing I struggled with was selecting a major. I was good in science and math, but I was also interested in getting a job after my university studies that would take me out into the world. I liked the idea of traveling around the world and being paid to do that.
I should also add that my mother wanted me to become a school teacher or a nurse but those careers didn’t excite me. I have nothing against teachers or nurses; they are indispensable professionals in our society. But I wanted to pursue a job that I would love, that I would feel passionate about, a job that would get me excited in the morning to go to work. So, how did I finally decide?
Here, I need to tell you another anecdote. Just before I left home to go to UCSB, my father asked to talk to me. We sat at the kitchen table. Here is what he said: “Hija (Daughter), you are about to leave home and live at the university in Santa Barbara. Your mother and I won’t be there to watch over you, to tell you: oh, don’t do that; or, be careful; or do this or do that. No, you will have to decide what you do and how you do it.
You will need to think about the pros and cons of a particular situation and decide for yourself. Don’t let others choose for you. You will sometimes make a mistake, but that isn’t always bad because you will learn from your mistakes.
If you make a bad mistake and you tell me that you thought about the pros and cons but it still came out wrong, I can accept your mistake. But I won’t accept a mistake if you don’t think about the options and possible consequences.
So, Hija, go with confidence to UCSB. You decide what actions you will take by thinking about the pros and cons and don’t let others choose for you.”
My father’s advice has been with me my whole life.
Regarding my major and eventual job career, I first decided not to let my mother choose for me. I would choose. Since I like the sciences, I decided to apply for a job as a research assistant at a laboratory that was developing a guidance system for a rocket to the moon. To make a long story short, I performed very well in that job. In fact, I even discovered how to make a particular part of the guidance module work after repeated failures.
The men I was working for did not thank me for my breakthrough, nor did they give me a pay raise. In fact, they were unhappy with me because I had dared to tinker with their design. They patted themselves on the back for their work. I got no recognition. I decided that a career in the scientific field would not be for me.
Next, I wanted to try the international field, but how could I do that? I spoke to the dean of women at UCSB and she came up with an idea for me. She said, “Why don’t you take time off from school and go into the Peace Corps?
“Being a Peace Corps volunteer in a foreign country, you will experience what it is like to live and work in a foreign environment,” she added. “You wouldn’t be there totally on your own. The Peace Corps has staff in the country they would send you to and they would be a resource for you as you navigate that new experience. After the Peace Corps, you can come back and resume your studies and graduate.”
I thought a lot about the Peace Corps option. Before making a final decision, I called a Peace Corps recruiter and discussed my situation with him. Even though I hadn’t yet graduated from the university, he said he would allow me to apply.
He sent me the application forms; I sent them back and eventually I was assigned to go to Honduras. After I finished my two years as a volunteer, the Honduran government asked me to stay on under a contract to assist in opening up nutrition centers around the country, based on the successful pilot project I had managed as a volunteer.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras to find out about me. I was invited to go meet some people at the embassy who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID.
I went and explained what I was doing and after answering all their questions, one of them said to me, “You should come to work for us. We in USAID administer the U.S foreign aid program to improve living conditions for people who live in poor countries like Honduras.
“We need people like you,” he said, “someone who can be effective in working in development in a foreign setting. Please think about applying for a career with our Agency.” I thanked them and said I would like that very much, but first I had to return to finish my university studies.
I returned to the U.S. and another opportunity took me to northern Virginia, where I enrolled in George Mason University. That university did not accept all my credits from UCSB, so I had to complete four semesters there to graduate, which I did with the class rank of #1.
Eventually, I was offered a job with USAID and I took it. It offered me just what I had desired: a job that I loved and felt passionate about. I have many stories I could tell you about my experiences in the various countries where I worked and my adventures as well. It was, for me, a highly rewarding career. I often tell people that if I had to do my life over again, I would do the same thing.
In closing, I hope I have provided you with some things to think about. For those of you who are going on to a four-year university, think about doing it like a job. Ask questions. Talk to your professors. Seek guidance from your professors, counselors, or university administrators when you need it.
Even if you don’t go on for a bachelor’s degree at this time, think about your situation and weigh the options and possible consequences. Make your choices; don’t let others choose for you. Pursue your dream, even if you aren’t sure how you will get there. Point yourself in the direction you may be interested in and go for it. Work hard and you will find that doors will open for you.
Paulo Coelho famously said something like this: The universe conspires to help the person who works hard and is seeking the life he or she dreams about.
Try it. I did, and I have lived a life so richly satisfying it has surpassed all the things I dreamed about. So, Fresno City College graduates: go ahead with confidence and pursue your dream. You won’t regret it.