I am from a small community in northern California. My parents are older than most of my friends’ parents and neither of them speaks English. For many years I acted as their eyes, ears, and feet, translating for them at doctor appointments, the pharmacy, school, etc. As soon as I turned 16, I learned how to drive so I could take my mother, who does not know how to drive, wherever she needed to go, whether it was to appointments, the grocery store, and/or work.
When it came time to attend college, I decided to take a huge risk and move down to southern California to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). I had no relatives in southern California, so my parents were not too excited about me living seven hours away, by myself. Moving to Long Beach also meant I had to move out of my home, and although my parents would have liked to support me, I knew that was an expense they could not assume. I applied for many scholarships, and fortunately received enough to make the move to CSULB. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best decision I could have ever made.
Being in Long Beach was not always easy, and I felt very lonely at times. More than once I found myself questioning if the degree was worth being so far away from my family. During those hard times, I had to remind myself why I was at school and who I was doing this for. By receiving a good education, I was not only following my dreams and opening doors to many opportunities for myself, but I was also carrying the dreams of my family and an entire generation. I would think about how hard my father worked in the fields every day, and how all my educational accomplishments always brought a smile to his face. I liked to think I was paying my father back for all of his hard work by pursuing my higher education goals. Every time I thought that I couldn’t do it anymore, I thought of all the hard work I had already done to be here, and that motivated me to continue persevering.
Not every day was hard, though. During my first year at CSULB, I joined many organizations. My colleagues at the Beach Engineering Student Success Team (BESST), College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) became my family away from home. From these organizations, I found new friends and studying partners that helped me have a successful first year of college. Thanks to one of these organizations, CAMP, I was selected for this internship with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. I am also extremely thankful for BESST, and all of the doors it has opened for me. By providing me with a student mentor and allowing me to mentor high school girls interested in STEM, BESST assisted me with tutoring and introduced me to a group of people that I share a common interest with.
With my degree, I want to be an astronaut. This career path is why I chose mechanical engineering for my major, and I hope to continue on this track after I graduate. One of the top goals of space exploration is visiting Mars, and I want to help achieve this goal. Reaching Mars is not only my dream, but the dream of my generation. I am not doing this for myself, but for everyone. We all have a calling, and I believe exploring space is mine.
If I could give any high school senior advice, it would be to take the risk. It will hard to be away from home, but it will be worth it in the end. It allowed me to give my undivided attention to my academics and forced me to interact with my peers, who then became my community.
Rebeca Saray Griego is a college sophomore at California State University, Long Beach. She was a 2017 summer intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.