Maribel Nava: Our Moment in History

"Being a first-generation college student is about what my parents had to invest in my life to care for me and to get me to this point. It was my parents' American Dream for me to be successful and go to college. And it means that college will be part of my life, and my younger siblings' lives, and my cousins', and someday my own children and their children." -Maribel Nava, senior at YES Prep Southeast
Maribel Nava, YES Prep Southeast

The following post is adapted from a speech for the Community Breakfast, an event celebrating YES Prep’s milestone of 10,000 students. 

Good morning, my name is Maribel Nava. I’m a senior at YES Prep Southeast.

My parents were born in Mexico and immigrated here to help support their families and to create a better life for themselves. I was born here in Houston when my parents were just teenagers– and the work of supporting a family meant that my parents had to focus on work and less on education. As a child, I saw the sacrifices my parents made in order for my siblings and me to have the best education possible, and it made me want to learn everything I could and achieve everything they dreamed for me.

My parents knew they couldn’t send me to the neighborhood public school, where my drive and love of learning might fade. So when my mother found out about YES Prep from the newspaper, she and I spent an entire afternoon reading student stories on the website. I was excited to go to a place where everyone talked about college, where I’d have the stability of seven years at the same school, and where there was an emphasis on service and family– two of the most important things to me. I entered the lottery and was one of the lucky students selected to attend YES Prep Southeast.

In high school, YES Prep teachers encouraged me to apply to the School for Ethics and Global Leadership or SEGL. It was a life-changing moment. I was accepted into the program and spent a semester in Washington D.C. The experience challenged me because it was the first time I was away from home. My sister was born with medical issues that year, and my parents had to struggle to care for her full time. I wished I could have been there to help, but my parents encouraged me to stay because they wanted me to have every opportunity. That semester was also the first time I was in classes with non-Latino students who didn’t share my background. But because of that experience with SEGL, I learned that it doesn’t matter if you don’t look like the people around you or what obstacles you face, you still have a voice and every right to use that voice.

Since that experience, I have used my voice to help others. Through a SEGL partnership with a South African NGO, the Mamelodi Initiative. I traveled to Mamelodi and created a platform for a human rights campaign for members of that community. I also taught a poetry workshop, my way of ensuring children in an underserved community had access to education.

Back in the US, I served as a fellow for Annpower, a women’s leadership forum, and, as a result, took action on my campus by forming YES Prep Southeast’s first feminist organization.

Because of my parents’ choice to send me to YES Prep, I’ve had access to all these opportunities, and I’ve had also had access to a rigorous curriculum of AP classes and incredibly dedicated teachers, so that I feel academically prepared to excel at the same level as students from more affluent areas of the country. This year, I applied to 13 colleges and have been accepted to all 13. I wouldn’t be able to say this if it weren’t for my incredible classmates, supportive family, and the hard work of my YES Prep teachers and college counselors. Next fall, I will be the first in my family to go to college. And next fall, I will be attending Harvard University.

My peers at YES Prep, who I’ve spent 7 years with, ARE going to college. However, there are 32,000 students in Houston on charter school waitlists, including members of my own family.

YES Prep ensured that I had access to the education I needed to follow my dream of empowering the Latino community. In the near future, I will redefine the stereotype that Latinos are not politically active. I will be the link between my people and the government. I will work in education and immigration reform and eventually serve in public office. Think of what we could achieve if every student in Houston had access to the same opportunities.

Thank you for ongoing support of YES Prep.

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