By Adelin Tiburcio ’21
As a daughter of low-income immigrant parents, I never imagined myself getting where I am today – the first in my family to graduate from a university. Next May, I will graduate with a B.A. in Spanish and Education, which will move me closer to my dream of becoming a teacher. This fall, I will begin my Newman Civic Fellowship, a prestigious program that recognizes and supports community-committed students who are creating change. Through this fellowship, I will learn the tools and skills I need to continue advocating for the undocumented community and get the experience of being a leader.
My journey to a degree has not been easy. As I am writing this, I have come to appreciate all the little things in life. Given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, Chapman shifted all classes to remote learning. This has been a very difficult time for the Chapman community and myself. We’ve all been required to rapidly adapt. Personally, my family has been affected by the situation. Both of the restaurants my dad works in closed, so he is not working. My brother is not going to school and his school does not have the ability to do online teaching, so it is up to me to guide him and teach him what I can. Given that I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my parents, there is not a quiet place I can go to “attend” my classes. Nonetheless, I am doing the best I can, as are my peers.
I have a small window in my bedroom, and I’ve come to appreciate the view. I open the blinds to see the trees outside and the flowers that are blooming. The breeze drifts in, and I feel like I’m outside. Although this is a scary time for our society, I also feel that it is a time for us to take a step back and pause.
Resilience and support help her overcome challenges
Challenges are nothing new to me. My family lives in an area surrounded by gangs and violence. I went to a public high school in Santa Ana where 98% of students are Hispanic. When I was applying to colleges, I had the support of my parents, but they had no experience with any part of the process. I sometimes stayed at my high school till 9 p.m. to finish my college essays and fill out my FAFSA form. When college decisions started rolling in, I would tell my parents when I got into a college and when I did not. They were proud of me either way.
To be honest, Chapman University was not my first choice. I felt intimidated by my peers and could not imagine myself going here. Yet, Chapman is now the place I call home – I cannot imagine myself anywhere else than here. The faculty and staff have guided me through the most difficult times of my life. They have challenged me to think critically and have motivated me to go above and beyond.
During my freshman year, my dad got his hours cut from his second job, forcing my mom to get a job to pay for my tuition. I did not have access to a computer or Internet at home. I would do my work on my phone and when my data level was reached, I would go to the Santa Ana Public Library to print out my readings and finish my work. During my sophomore year, I received the Carrie Cooper Scholarship from Attallah College of Educational Studies. That tuition support allowed me to buy my first computer.
Later that year, I went through the most difficult time of my life. One night during a break in the academic calendar, I went to bed feeling fine and woke up in the morning with half of my face paralyzed. I had Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of facial muscles. I emailed my math professor, Oliver Lopez, and he forwarded my email to Dean of Students Jerry Price, who guided me right away. Chapman allowed me to take an extra week off from school and assisted with counseling because of the trauma I experienced.
As I progressed in my academic experience, I gained confidence and allies. I wanted to make a change in my community by advocating for undocumented youth. During the summer, I wrote a book review alongside Anne Steketee (Ph.D. ’20) that was published in the Journal of Latinos and Education. I wrote about the privilege and access to a quality education that students like me enjoy, but also the obstacles that prevent full inclusion. This was a time in which I had to provide for my family. While juggling classes and work, I researched jobs for my dad, took him to interviews, networked to help him look for employment, helped my brother with his homework and went to parent conferences.
I also filled out scholarship and fellowship applications. Due to my experience with Bell’s palsy, I knew my body could not handle so much stress, so I decided to leave the 4+1 master’s program that Attallah College offers. It was a difficult decision – for a time, it felt like my life was ending. But now I know that I will eventually complete my journey to becoming a teacher.
It was a confusing and overwhelming time, yet I continued to volunteer at my brother’s school, helping students with math, conducting read-alouds and leading other activities to gain teaching experience. I was also helping to bring about the first Undocumented Student Conference at Chapman. The feedback I received made me realize that one person can make a big difference in a community that is fragile and scared to speak up about injustice. Thus, through the Newman Civic Fellowship, I hope to gain the leaderships skills I need to help create a Dream Center at Chapman that will benefit the undocumented student community.
As I consider an eventful and rewarding undergraduate journey at Chapman, I’m also looking ahead with optimism. I know that this fellowship is going to change the course of my career and make me a better advocate. It is going to give me the experience and skills I need to be an engaged community leader.