This month, beginning with National Charter Schools Week, we will feature stories from charter school graduates from across the country. Check back every day to see a new student feature in our 30 Days of Grad series.
It was tough watching my single mom struggle to support my two sisters and me. I never wanted to see the lights cut off again, so I vowed to secure a career that earned lots of money. I am Antonio Garcia from Houston, Texas, and in the fall, I will be attending the University of San Francisco to pursue my dreams in the city of opportunity. In a little less than two weeks, I will graduate from YES Prep Southeast, which I was fortunate to attend after my name was drawn from the lottery as an incoming sixth grader.
In my seven years at YES Prep, I have learned to embrace my identity as a Hispanic, a low-income student, and as a leader in my community. Even though the world has tried to make me ashamed of my heritage and humble community, YES Prep helped me believe that my name and ZIP code would not define my success. So long as I was willing to work hard and invest in my own education, I would move ahead in life and not have my kids struggle the same way I did growing up. Learning that those with a college degree typically earn a million dollars more over a lifetime than a person who doesn’t have a college degree was all the motivation I needed to focus on my studies.
My teachers, counselors, and staff at school have always encouraged me to explore the world and go beyond what is expected of me. Even when an opportunity seemed impossible to afford or achieve, my school community has always supported me and found a way. With their support, I was able to travel abroad to the rural Andes for two months and take college classes at Rice University and Texas A&M. I have received invaluable problem-solving skills and guidance, which have given me the courage and confidence to tackle problems head on. For example, this past January, I traveled with YES Prep families and staff to advocate for charter school funding at the state capitol in Austin. This opportunity allowed me to advocate for a cause that will directly benefit my community the way it benefitted me.
As I get ready to head off to college, I keep wondering, what am I going to do with my life? During my time at YES Prep, I have built a foundation of skills that will aid me in all my endeavors, and I now have the confidence to pursue a life that I will be proud of. Although I will be heading into college undecided on my major, I now know that my dreams are what I make of them and not what others tell me I can and cannot do.