The following post is adapted from a speech delivered at the 20th anniversary Legacy Luncheon to 400 of YES Prep’s most enduring supporters. Guest writer, Bitia Alanis, is a senior at YES Prep Southeast.
My parents immigrated to the United States seeking better opportunities for their future family. My mom remembers wanting to build a new life full of hope, and they did so for me and my brothers.
My family and I are incredibly close. Before my grandmother passed away, she reiterated the message that she shared with me my entire life: pursue your dreams, work hard in your academics, keep a positive outlook, and always see beauty in life.
These are words that I live by each day and that have guided me through every challenge I have since faced. When I was younger, I was often bullied in my neighborhood school for speaking Spanish or being “too smart” and working “too hard.” One time, my teacher stepped out of the room and asked me to finish presenting the lesson to the class because she knew I understood the lesson. While I stood in front of the classroom, some of the students began calling me names. I felt ashamed for knowing the material and for being a “teacher favorite”.
While this was a difficult time for me, I knew my education would be the best opportunity for me to build a better life for me and my family.
When my family heard about YES Prep through other kids in our neighborhood, we entered the YES Prep lottery hoping I would earn a seat at YES Prep close to my home. I was one of the many students across the city applying to the lottery that year, hoping to get a seat at a school that would provide me with those educational opportunities I had dreamed of. Like far too many, I didn’t earn a seat at YES Prep that year, But my family and I never lost hope and maintained a positive attitude that another opportunity would come along.
And it did. The moment I set foot on a YES Prep campus, I knew that YES Prep was different from any other school I had attended.
It was a breath of fresh air for me to be able to be around teachers who cared about me and students who cared about their school work as much as I did. When I needed additional help, teachers like Mr. Little were there to lift me up and support me.
As soon as I arrived at Southeast, many teachers were there to push me and challenge me to take difficult AP classes. Teachers like Mr. Sheridan encouraged me to apply to the YES Prep ambassador program in my junior year. I applied and was one of the few juniors accepted to the program.
My teachers challenged me to apply for the national academy of future physicians and scientists at Harvard University, an annual gathering of America’s high-achieving high school students aspiring to become the next generation of medical leaders.
Once I was accepted, I was worried about the cost of the program but Ms. DiBella was even there to help me fundraise so that I could attend the program the summer of my junior year. The trip gave me the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the field of medicine and affirmed for me that I want to help others by becoming a doctor.
Growing up, my dad always told me I was smart enough to attend Harvard and that one day I would go. As we took our first steps on campus for the national academy of future physicians and scientists, I looked to my dad who was full of emotions. “This is the dream I had for you.” he said, “I can’t believe it’s happening today.” That emotional moment was possible because of the support of YES Prep and my family.
This year, my family faced the greatest challenge yet. During Hurricane Harvey, the flood waters rose from inches to feet inside my home. I had no idea what my family would do next. How would we fix our home? How would we replace all the belongings my parents had worked so hard to provide for my younger brothers and me? I felt vulnerable and an uncertainty about what the future would hold. I also felt angry- why my home and why my family?
YES Prep was there for us. Mr. Trevino helped me voice my needs to the YES Prep community. Ms. Rayburn, helped organize other teachers and students to come to my home and help clean up the debris. Mr. DiBella even came, and he assured my parents that no matter what happened, I would graduate and go to college this year because I had the entire YES Prep community behind me.
And it’s true. My teacher, Ms. Kang, opened her home to me and my family so we would have a place to stay until our home was ready. And just weeks after they demo-ed my home, Ms. Rayburn stood by my side as I submitted my college applications to my top schools, Carnegie Mellon, Brown, Trinity and UT Austin which I just found out I was accepted into.
No matter what, YES Prep and my family have supported me inside and outside the classroom.
My vision board, which included my dreams for the future, was destroyed in the flood, but it is engraved in my memory thanks to the positive outlook my grandmother emphasized throughout so much of my life.
Next year, I will fulfill my vision by attending a top college. I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. I will join Doctors Without Borders. I will provide care and support for those all over the world. I will do all of this because my family made the choice to send me to YES Prep. And because I am prepared to lead.
To watch this speech, check out minute 15:00 of our Facebook Live video.