Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Gazing out the wiAryonia Whitendow of a 45-minute bus ride across town to Westchester, a lost little girl yearned for nothing more than to attend college. Raised in a low income household in Torrance, CA with three sisters in a hard-working family, my mother wanted better opportunities for her daughters. She had my sisters and me transported to magnet schools for the promise of a better education; a brand new high school with little resources and few opportunities to help me excel. Despite the setbacks I faced, I was given an opportunity to participate in a two-week writer’s camp in North Carolina at Duke University early in my high school career. Following this eye-opening college experience, I was motivated to return home and do everything I could to pursue a college degree.

Fast forward to a high school senior and I am a part of the second graduating class at Ramon C. Cortines in downtown Los Angeles. I am a first generation college student, so when I was applying to colleges, I had little assistance from both my family and my school. Remembering how great my time at the writer’s camp at Duke University was, I focused on reliving that experience and decided to not apply to any in-state colleges or universities. Since my family trusted that I understood the complicated college application process, they let me lead the way independently. I wound up admitted out of state, which was great. Then I looked at an out of state price tag of over $60,000 with no significant scholarships. I quickly realized I made a mistake. I tried to sign up for student loans to chase a dream, but my mother had a tough decision to make: to co-sign my future or help my oldest sister with her new born child. Family came first and before I knew it my dream of attaining a higher education looked like just that: a dream.

Honor student. Dance captain. Poet. Writer of spoken word. High school senior. Lost. I blamed my family for insufficient funds to provide me a better education and myself for not attaining scholarships. Without the ability to pay for the schools I had been accepted to, I enrolled at El Camino College, a community college in Torrance. Embarrassed and confused my first semester, I was determined to defy the odds. Students at junior colleges are stigmatized to not have a clear objective towards transferring but I did not accept that. As a full-time student, I worked in Financial Aid, Counseling, and I became a Campus Ambassador. My three years in community college allowed me to find my voice and purpose towards higher education.

Not only was I very active at my community college, I also saw it as my second chance and utilized the resources available at my community college. One resource I utilized is the Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP) through the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). On Saturday’s they would hold seminar sessions to guide us on the application. I was given a student mentor from UCLA. My mentor would visit me at El Camino, assist mewith my UCLA application, and check up on my grades and everything (shout-out Jeremy Solorzano, Class of 2016)!  UCLA is very transfer-friendly because they have honors programs like the Transfer Alliance Program (TAP) and STOMP Conference that give community college students access to UC schools. From recruiters, programs, peer mentors, counselors, and partnerships there are an abundance of resources and people who want to see students succeed! I am grateful for CCCP to guide me here. When I found out I was accepted to UCLA, I was so proud of what I had accomplished. I changed the trajectory of my life by becoming a competitive applicant who applied to 12 in-state colleges and accepted to every institution with financial aid offers to cover my tuition as a transfer student. I bring up this backstory to motivate prospective students that you have the power to change your life and chase your dreams. Your background and lack of resources does not define you; your ambition does and as an optimist, UCLA is looking for tenacious leaders who are breaking barriers to keep moving forward!!

Fast forward today, I am a senior at UCLA majoring in African-American Studies and receive the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which pays my tuition and fees. I wanted to take advantage of being a full-time UCLA student, so I lived on campus my first year in Acacia Residence Hall, which is a plaza dorm with private bathroom. Luckily at UCLA, housing is guaranteed for three years for freshman and one year for transfers, so I didn’t have to worry about commuting! I had become so accustomed to commuting, that I quickly realized what a privilege it is to live on campus. I highly advise prospective students to get at least one year living on campus to get the full college experience. Academically, I am in a contract course through the Center of Community Learning. I also have an internship course, 195CE English, where I receive academic credit to intern off campus. My internship is at Live Nation where I am chasing my next dream of working in the business of tech and music for live music festivals. I have also had the opportunity to work in the music industry where I found myself on a yacht with P. Diddy, Drake, and others. When I am not surrounded by talented musicians, or being a full-time student, I can be spotted navigating the Los Angeles freeways as a Bruin Ambassador! Through this on-campus student job, I drive to local high schools conducting presentations, attending college fairs, and motivating students to pursue their higher education goals at UCLA!

As a first-generation, transfer student I never forget my journey or the people from my community who believed in me! From their support, I am resilient and aware that I need to give back and help those who do not see their potential yet. This past summer I went back to Duke University as a student counselor from UCLA and did just that! As I look back at the lost girl who felt like doors were closing, I am opening new doors as an Optimist ready to face the world as a Bruin! Will you be next!?

Aryonia White is a second year transfer student who will be graduating in June with a major in African American Studies with a minor in Music Industry.

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