Growing up, I was a very curious child, and I am very grateful that my parents always fostered this trait in me. This curiosity always served me well in school, but there were limits. My mind could only imagine and explore things it was already been exposed to, and in some areas, there was much that I, a first-generation American with high-school educated parents, missed out on. Because my parents never attended college, I lacked the deep knowledge about college that my peers seemed to have. I never dreamed about attending an esteemed university or having an extraordinary career, and it wasn’t until beginning the college application process in my senior year that I really started thinking about what college and career would be best for me.
It was during this time period when I was particularly thankful for my curiosity. Once I finally realized how much knowledge I lacked about college, I was not disappointed that I was so far behind my peers. Rather, I was relieved. One of the main reasons students don’t achieve high levels of success is because they aren’t aware of available resources—basically, they don’t know what they don’t know. Because I was now aware of what I needed to learn, I was able to harness my curiosity to fuel my college and career search. Not wanting to stray too far from home, I applied to several Texas universities. Luckily, I was granted admission to each of my top choice schools, but I still had a tremendous amount of stress. I had no clue how I was going to pay for school, and I knew there was little my mother could do to support me.
However, during the fall of my senior year, I received an email that gave me hope. One of the programs at another school I applied to, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), was looking for applicants, and although it wasn’t my top choice school, driven by my curiosity, I checked out the opportunity. I found that their Top Scholar program provided everything I could possibly need: a full merit scholarship, a close-knit community of friends, one-on-one connections with faculty mentors, and a funded study abroad experience. It sounded too perfect, like something that would be for only the best of the best—something I could certainly never get into. Despite my doubt, I stared at the application every day until one day, I had the guts to fill it out and turn it in right before the deadline. For a couple weeks, I forgot about it and went on with my scholarship search, until I received an email with good news: I was offered an interview for the program.
A couple of weeks of stress, one interview, and some anxious tears later, I was offered a spot in the UTSA Top Scholar program, one of the most life-changing opportunities I have received in my life. With my family’s support, I accepted the offer and finalized my acceptance to UTSA. A couple months later, without the burden of financial stress and a promise of new opportunities, I was able to leave home for college with an excitement untainted by any stress and grateful for the chances this program was giving me. Had I never read the initial email with information about the Top Scholar program, I don’t know where I would be, but I’m thankful I took the chance.
Even with the financial burden of college out of the picture, transitioning into college was still a difficult experience. As a college freshman and first-generation college student, I was in a new land—one that hundreds of hours of research probably could not have prepared me for. I was hundreds of miles away from my family and friends, and I felt like I was already falling behind before I even began. Luckily, the community I had in my scholarship program gave me the support I needed to adjust to college life. Because the program was small, with only about 19 people, and most of us lived in a dorm together, the group was tight-knit. These people immediately became my best friends; we ate meals together, studied together, joined the same organizations, and even took some of the same classes. In a couple of weeks, I no longer felt as though I was alone at my university. I had friends that genuinely cared about me and with similar interests, ambition, and dedication to doing well in school.
When you are young, you feel comfortable exploring, even if you are alone, because you know you have a home to come back to; this program and my peers became home to me. Because of them, I became more comfortable at UTSA and gained more confidence to begin exploring what my school had to offer. I took any opportunity I could find to try something new, such as taking classes outside my major, joining organizations that looked interesting, and utilizing my connections to talk to people about their careers.
None of that would have been possible without my new family, and especially, my willingness to take chances. Maybe I have had good luck in the past, but I firmly believe in taking risks and that trying out different paths is one of the most important things you can do in life. I would not be where I am now without taking chances, and I can only imagine where I would be if I tried to stifle the curiosity that carried me to where I am now.
Brianna Diaz was a Fall 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio.