In June 2017, the University of Southern California housed over 150 rising seniors for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s annual Youth Leadership Institute. This post is dedicated to the 2017 USC YLI familia and future YLI participants. Stay woke!
High school teaches us how to find the value of x, the meaning of parallel structure, the importance of the year 1776 and more. However, no class teaches us how to effectively transition to college.
While on the path towards a higher education, many of us are left asking questions such as, “What the heck is a ‘FAFSA?’” and “How do I structure my personal statement?” The struggle is uncharted territory for those of us who will be the first in our families to pursue a higher education.
My parents can’t help me and neither can my tias and tios, seeing as how none of them got past high school. I had to accept the fact that my parents and I would take this step together, neither one of us knowing what may lie ahead. Or so we thought until fate found me, or rather, my inbox.
An email from the president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Fidel A. Vargas, was sent to me in late April this year.
It read, “YLI [Youth Leadership Institute] is a four-day, overnight conference designed to give you the practical tools needed to successfully apply to top universities and access to scholarship and financial aid opportunities.”
Upon finishing the email, I began filling out the online application and finished it a couple of days later, hoping for the best. The acceptance letter came in on the last day of May and I couldn’t stop smiling. Granted, it wasn’t an acceptance letter from USC but there, I would learn the tips and skills necessary to get into my dream school, and with other kids like me, too.
Being paired up with my familia– the group I would hang out with everyday– on day one of the YLI was something I was looking forward to ever since I received the acceptance email. My familia was composed of guys from different parts of the country (It was really just California and Texas. Others had familias of greater variety: there were kids from Florida, Michigan, Oregon and other states.) Two of us came from SoCal, two from NorCal, and one lone star represented Texas. We were led by our mentor, a Gates Millennium Scholar and one of our many role models for the week.
Despite being split into 30 individual familias, we were all part of a grand familia, a network of individuals dedicated to support and help each other in times of need. We were encouraged to interact with other familias; in fact, I found myself being “adopted” by other familias (shoutout to Familias 9 and 29!) and the transition to each was nothing short of smooth.
Conversations about college life and the meaning behind Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” erupted almost immediately and they felt natural, as if you were speaking to a friend you’ve known for years.
When it came to the serious topic of college, we would flock on over to the Mark Taper Hall of Humanities. It hosted most of the sessions and in the span of four days, it became the granddaddy of all college information hubs.
Need to know if attending a private college is expensive as it seems? What about the difference between early action and early decision? And how do college admissions staff make decisions? Mark Taper’s got you covered.
Although we were cooped up in a large classroom for a good chunk of each day, all of us found ourselves more intrigued with the process. Among the informative powerpoint presentations were multiple Kahoot sessions, interactive case studies in which we played the role of college admission officers, and an intense game of College Jeopardy, in which Team 1 dominated.
Of course, it was the keynote speakers and HSF Heroes and mentors who brought everything to life. Going into the YLI, I was worried about paying for college and being rejected by my dream school, among other things.
However, by the end of the week, I left with much more than I anticipated: a thick stack personal business cards, a book written– and signed– by a “Self Made” Latina, the importance of networking and a lot more, including strong friendships I know will last a long time. Had it not been for the HSF staff, the HSF Heroes and the HSF Mentors and A-Team, we wouldn’t have gained as much information as we did. Thank you.
Whether we were out having lunch at Everybody’s Kitchen or gathering around the campfire outside the Parkside Apartments with our ice cream, there was never a time I didn’t feel uncomfortable and it was clear why.
Every single one of us shared something: a Hispanic heritage. It made it easy to open up and have mile-deep conversations with my own familia. These late-night chats brought us closer together and it was evident other familias had done the same.
By the end of it all, we had chanted “Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose!” in the style of the famous soccer chant, we took pleasure in hearing the superb student piano/vocal combo of Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something,” and most of us tried to master the infamous “Caballo Dorado.” We felt truly connected and– if we weren’t already– became part of a big, crazy, loving familia.
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and the YLI was no different in that regard. Commencement Day was, in a word, bittersweet. After our final breakfast at Everybody’s Kitchen and a group photo, we finished with a completion ceremony luncheon at USC’s Town & Gown ballroom.
I’ll admit, eating a three-course meal and learning dining etiquette was something I didn’t see coming. I expected a pizza party with name-brand drinks so let’s just say expectations were definitely met. I felt out-of-place because television usually portrays these kind of things as predominately white events.
The HSF President Fidel Vargas later explained everything, from the food to the etiquette to the formal dress. He said we have to become familiar to fancy settings because we will be attending a lot more of these dinners in the future and, let me just say, it was beautiful. That is an amazing future that we created for ourselves. We did that! Even more beautiful was seeing everyone stand up and announce their dream school and major.
Watching my Hispanic familia stand up and hear their valiant words was empowering, to say the least. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will all thrive at Columbia, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Texas at Austin, or wherever else your great minds and charming personalities will take you.
To my grand familia, no matter where you end up, live life to the fullest and do everything “with a purpose!” We can, we are, and we will keep doing!