It was senior year for Lucy at Petworth High School, where there was a strict requirement that all students apply for college in order to graduate. Exhausted from an overnight shift, Lucy struggled to stay awake in her new College Preparedness class with Ms. Cobble.
Alejandra: Lucy… Lucy… Snap out of it, Lucy!
Lucy: Uh? What? What happened?
Alejandra: Did you hear what Ms. Cobble just said?
Lucy: Yeah, we have to apply to at least two different universities as a requirement to graduate.
Alejandra: Do you think they will ask for a Social?
Lucy: Why does it matter? Even if we somehow got accepted, it’s not like we can afford to go, right? Like, I wish I had that kind of money.
Alejandra: I know right! Not having papers is so annoying.
Lucy: By the way Ale, are they hiring at your job? They are not giving me enough days where I work and I’m afraid I won’t make enough for my rent and food.
Alejandra: Are your mom and dad still back in El Salvador?
Lucy: Yeah. It’s just been hard living on my own.
Alejandra: I see. I will ask my boss and let you know. But Lucy, you’re my best friend. If anything happens, you can come stay with my family. We could even rent a place together after we graduate.
Lucy: Really!? Thank you so much! I’ll call you later to talk about it. I have to go to work right after class.
Alejandra: Okay bye!
Between work and school, senior year was going by fast. Miss Cobble, who was in charge of helping the students with college applications, had high expectations for Lucy.
Miss Cobble: Which colleges are you applying for?
Lucy: I don’t know.
Miss Cobble: Do you know what you are studying?
Lucy: No, I don’t. I think I will just stick to work.
Miss Cobble frowned her eyebrows and with disbelief in her eyes said: Well, if money is an issue, there are a lot of scholarships you can apply for, and with your GPA, I’m sure you will get one if you give it a try.
What do I say now? Lucy asked herself. I can’t tell her I am not eligible for scholarships because I don’t have a Social Security Number. She hesitated for a little bit while getting lost in her own thoughts as Miss Cobble continued droning on.
Miss Cobble: …anyways, you should really think about going to college.
Lucy: Okay, I will. Thank you, Miss Cobble.
The next few days, the only thing Lucy could think about was how she was going to keep her migratory status a secret. After all, everyone always told her that you should never tell anyone that you are “illegal” because anyone could use it against you, or worse, call “la migra” on you.
A couple weeks passed and Lucy filled out just enough college applications to complete her school’s requirement for graduation.
Miss Cobble: Lucy when you are done with these applications I need you to fill out your FAFSA, it’s an application so that the government can help you pay for college.
More paperwork? Lucy had thought it was over.
But as Lucy started filling out the form she realized that it asked many questions she could not answer, like her parents’ yearly income or the Social Security Number she so feared. Oh no what am I going to do now? I will just leave it blank.
Miss Cobble reviewed the whole form and asked Lucy about her parents’ income and who supported her financially. Lucy explained that she had migrated alone and that her parents were back home so she worked to support herself. Miss Cobble was stunned.
Miss Cobble: I see you left the Social Security box blank. Do you have one?
Lucy lowered her head and stayed quiet for a while. Should I tell her I don’t have one? Lucy’s heart was racing. Besides her closest friends, she never shared this information with anyone, especially not her teachers. What if she thinks less of me because I don’t have papers? She couldn’t figure out how to answer. Then Miss Cobble broke the silence.
Miss Cobble: It’s okay if you don’t have one.
Lucy: It is?
Miss Cobble: Of course. Is this why you said you won’t go to college?
Lucy: Yes, I can’t apply for scholarships without a Social.
Miss Cobble: And that’s where you’re wrong, Lucy. There’s support out there. You just need to look for those that don’t require you to be a resident or U.S. citizen. Of course it will be a little more difficult, but trust me when I tell you it is possible.
Lucy was ecstatic and astonished at the bomb Miss Cobble had just dropped on her. She couldn’t believe how understanding and supportive Miss Cobble was about her status. And what’s more, this whole time she could actually go to college!
With a new burst of hope and Miss Cobble’s support, Lucy spent the next few weeks writing essays and filling out scholarship applications between shifts at work . Before long, a much anticipated email arrived. .
Lucy: Miss Cobble, I got an email from the Hope Scholarship for Immigrants! If I get accepted, I’ll get a full ride! It says that I need to come in for an interview.
Miss Cobble: Congratulations Lucy! That’s great news! Hundreds must have applied. You can do this — I’ll be cheering you on.
The day for the interview arrived, and Lucy made her way to a university campus on a sunny Saturday morning. The metro ran slower than usual, causing Lucy to arrive 10 minutes late. Lucy was nervous that she had already started off on the wrong foot, but when she arrived, a panel of five educators welcomed her warmly. She remembered her mom ‘s words, “La esperanza es lo último que se pierde”. After sharing her story and answering many questions, they dismissed her. Outside the room, the next student was ready to be interviewed, his arms holding binders full of papers.
As she made her way back to the metro station to get going for her shift, doubt creeped in:
I have no chance.
I was too nervous, I should have given better answers.
Somebody else probably deserves this more than me.
As Lucy arrived at her job, she felt thankful for all the support she received from Miss Cobble, and she felt happy to know how much support was out there for immigrants like herself. She thought of all the hardships she overcame in order to finish highschool, and she felt proud of herself for everything she did for her own education. She looked at herself in the mirror and said firmly — I can do this. I am capable. I tried and I gave it my best. No matter what, getting this far is an accomplishment.
Days before graduation, another email arrived. Lucy was one of 8 students chosen to be awarded the Hope Scholarship. Lucy could not contain the joy she felt. She immediately called her mom in El Salvador to share the news. Her mom’s voice lit up through the phone. She said: “I knew you could do it. I’m so proud of you”.
For the first time in a while, Lucy felt worthy and proud of herself. She was proud to be an immigrant and she was happy to discover that there are people like her teacher who support immigrants. Lucy was not ashamed anymore and in fact, she felt inspired to help more people like her. She owed it to herself and to all the immigrants that couldn’t study due to lack of support.
The next time Lucy walked onto a university campus, she was a college student, and she couldn’t believe she had made it. After everything she had been through, Lucy learned that there is always a way to accomplish anything she dreams of. Lucy’s journey is not finished, but neither is her will to keep going.