Ten years ago, I was in third grade. I started at a new school that year that I really liked. I had great teachers and we started every day singing and dancing together. It was a good year, but I had no idea that it would make such an incredible impact on my future. But looking back now, that is when it all started. That is when I started thinking about college, dreaming about my future, and dedicating myself to reach my goals.
Ten years later, I was accepted to the best public university in the nation: The University of California – Berkeley. My path to college wasn’t easy. Only one person in my family graduated high school. Nobody in my family even applied to college or knew what it would take to get accepted. But way back when I was just nine years old, my family put me on the path to college when they enrolled me in Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary.
This was the very first year of the very first Rocketship school. Our school was in a church in downtown San Jose. But what I remember most about my time at Rocketship is my teachers and what they taught me. I loved all my teachers at Rocketship, however, my favorites were Ms. Guerrero and Mr. Nadeau. These two teachers made an incredible impact on my education and my life.
Ms. Guerrero taught us to understand the struggles of the Latino community. We read books like “Breaking Through” by Francisco Jimenez and discussed immigration and deportation in class. Most of us came from immigrant backgrounds yet we did not understand how this could affect our futures. Ms. Guerrero spoke candidly, giving us the space to engage with important social issues even at a young age. She also had very high expectations of our class and pushed us to not only reach our goals, but to exceed them.
Like Ms. Guerrero, Mr. Nadeau quickly became one of my favorite teachers. He always challenged us to achieve more than we thought possible. We had reading groups based on our individual achievement levels and he made sure that I was always “growing my brain.” The individual attention I received in his classroom raised my expectations of myself as a student and as a person. I didn’t realize all these things at the time, but both teachers instilled the foundation for my love of reading, writing, and constantly challenging myself to exceed my own expectations and those set by others in my community.
Every single day, my teachers instilled in me the expectation that I was going to college and worked with me to accomplish that goal. Normalizing the very idea of going to college is essential to help kids that come from families and communities that don’t talk much about college or naturally expect their kids to go to college. It was with this goal in mind that I stayed up late, got up early, and worked hard to get into UC Berkeley. As the first in my family to go to college, my parents did not always understand all the sacrifices that required. But now they see that it was all worth it. UC Berkeley will give me unrivaled educational opportunities, new challenges, and the exposure to new people and new environments. I know that UC Berkeley is a rigorous school that will prepare me for the rest of my life.
In third grade, I dreamt of being the first in my family to go to college. 10 years later, I’m making that dream come true and, as Ms. Guerrero and Mr. Nadeau taught me, I now have my sights set on even bigger things. Right now, my dream is to become a journalist. I want to combine my passion for social equality and writing, using my education to tell stories that inform and improve my community. As Ms. Guerrero showed me, there is value in being socially conscious of your surroundings because it can ensure the protection of more vulnerable people. There is power in words, in inspiring others, and in telling undertold stories. I want to show young kids from my neighborhood, and from neighborhoods I’ve never even been to, that they too can look beyond their circumstances and set high expectations for themselves. I believe that every student deserves the right to dream, to discover, and to develop their unique potential, just like me.
Maya Diaz is a graduate from top-rated Downtown College Prep Alum Rock High School. Originally from San Jose, Maya will move to Berkeley in the fall to major in Media Studies at the University of California – Berkeley. Maya has one brother and two very proud parents. During her tenth grade year, Maya was part of the team that won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest for their gray water and rainwater storage system. Taking first place in this competition won their school $150,000 in technology.