Finding my Place at UCLA

I was about to go into surgery, and at the time, I thought it could lead to the amputation of my leg. The nurse by my side could sense my nerves, and in an effort to console me, she said, “I understand this is hard for you, but at least your tragic story and being Latina will probably get you into any university you want, isn’t that good?” I don’t think this is a statement I will ever forget, and in the months of me counting down to officially become a Bruin, the words continued to echo in the back of my head. Although it did not come from a place of malice, statements like this one made me realize that despite of how extensively I worked both physically and academically, often to the point of exhaustion, my life was oftentimes belittled to having a “sob story” college admissions officers would pity me for. This completely undermined my merit and assumed my admission into the university was based out of out of, solely and ironically, luck.

My “sob story” wasn’t as glorious as the nurse painted it to be, a four leaf clover did not show up on my doorstep and justify my hardships with an email that read: “Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you of your acceptance.” I was born into a world of challenges that taught me at a young age that unfair things happen to people without reason, and it was profoundly disturbing to think that the unacceptable hardships I, or others similar to me were born into, were suddenly justified because of a college acceptance. As good as I felt getting accepted into UCLA, 17-year-old me came into this institution with many doubts about the validity of my own acceptance and the strength of my academic abilities.

Now, two years later as a student lucky enough to have attended UCLA, I would want to emphasize to myself this isn’t true. I would tell myself, if you are here, it is because you deserve to be here, and no number of obstacles or setbacks could change that. Your race, socioeconomic status, or the circumstances you have faced do not make you something worth taking pity on, nor somehow justify getting in with less qualifications than others. You are here because of your intelligence, your merit, and your worth. Absolutely nothing else.

My time at UCLA has undoubtedly been the most incredible two years of my life. Being a first-generation student, I was afraid of everything that had to do with coming into a university as prestigious as UCLA, but I have been welcomed with open arms. I have had so many resources made available to me that have helped me find my place on this campus. Scholarship Resource Center, the Academic Advancement Program, The First To Go Program, the Bruin Guardian Scholars program, just to name a few, have been pivotal to fostering a supportive environment that have aided me as a student of color to succeed financially, emotionally, and academically.

Other than the organizations devoted to my success, I have been blessed to find a family at UCLA and a home away from home. Becoming involved as an administrative clerk in the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) not only provided me with the means to support myself financially, but it allowed me to work in an organization devoted towards the success of other students with backgrounds like my own. Getting involved in Residential Life both as a Resident Government Councilmember and Resident Assistant for Rieber Hall have exposed me to a wonderful sector of the UCLA campus centered on community building, wellness, and enhancing the student experience. Being a New Student Advisor for the incoming UCLA class opened my eyes to the diversity of this campus, and the importance of creating a welcoming experience for students so they can see how much this university has to offer. Finally, my involvement in the UCLA Student Alumni Association has become my family- a community of caring students that serve as my support system for navigating through college.

Being on this campus has not justified the nurse’s comment nor the hardships I have faced. However, it is my backstory that has motivated me to prove to myself and the world of my worth as a UCLA student and that my acceptance was the correct choice for this university.  It is finally coming to the realization that my tribulations have made me who I am- a disciplined person works passionately to make the most of her UCLA experience. Despite the decision to attend UCLA being one of the biggest leaps of faith I have ever taken, I genuinely believe it is one of the best choices I have made. Even on the hardest days, I pride myself in being a Bruin, and the wonderful community of students I can share that with.

Mairpau Paz is a first generation college student and second year at UCLA.