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A bottle of potential with the cap super-glued shut

At 16 years old, I started my first job as a cashier at a local beauty supply store. It wasn’t until I started working that I began to face the reality of preparing for my future. My parents moved to the United States from El Salvador in the 1990s seeking a horizon of opportunities for themselves and for their children.

I never really wanted to go to college. Coming from parents that never got the chance to do so and having an older sister who decided to attend community college, I always thought, why waste so much money applying to a four-year university? I heard the word “college” and thought of years of debt. It wasn’t until I got my job that I realized: I don’t want to work in the service industry for the rest of my life.

When I came home crying one day due to customers cursing at me, my dad told me: “Don’t worry — this is why we brought you here. Study and prepare yourself to be someone great, and the day that you do, you won’t have to face the undermining that you’re facing now. You have that opportunity sweetheart; take it.”

I aim to take that opportunity. I’m planning on applying to UNCC, UNCW, and UNCG; I’ve already submitted applications to NC A&T, Queens University, and Wingate. I want to major in human resources and pursue a minor in business administration. Throughout high school, I’ve come to realize that employees need support and a voice in the workplace. I’ve faced poor treatment myself, which is why I want to contribute to stopping that. My future isn’t set in stone, but that is my current source of inspiration for my education and future career.

When I told my parents that I was applying and wanted to go to a four-year university, they accepted it because they told me to do what I knew was best for me and what I wanted for my future. It hasn’t been easy though, especially having a mom who barely finished high school in a different country and a dad who couldn’t even finish elementary school. It’s not easy for them to support me. They worry about how to pay for college, if I’ll have to leave home, not being able to help guide me through the application process (RNS, FAFSA, college searches, etc). They want the best for me, but can only do so much due to their inexperience with college planning.

The lack of support I have felt this year has been overwhelming. Senior year can be stressful; couple that with a 30-hour-a-week job and the help and support I can’t get from my parents puts a lot on a 17-year-old’s plate. When you are a first-generation student, you worry about if your family will want you to go, who you’re going to ask for help in preparing for the experience, and what can help you with the expenses of higher education.

Unfortunately, my academic advisors have not been able to support me in the areas where my parents can’t. When you have overburdened counselors who cannot remember your name, let alone transcript requests, this roots doubt and fear in first-generation college students.

I see myself as a bottle of potential with the cap super-glued shut.

Life after high school is a room with many doors, endless options, opportunities, and choices. Of those many doors, we can only hope that through our journeys and struggles to be the first in our families to attend college, we will choose the right one that leads us to complete greatness.

Estrella Castro

Estrella Castro is a senior at Garinger High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Upon her anticipated graduation in June 2019, she plans to pursue a degree in human relations at a four-year, in-state university.