Pebbles of uncertainty litter the path of life. At every turn, every step, we encounter these pesky little rocks. Sometimes one of them makes its way inside your shoe and becomes a more obvious annoyance than usual. At the same time, these frustrations are an opportunity to determine our futures. That’s where I’ve found myself. As the light of graduation rises over my path’s horizon, thoughts of uncertainty plague my mind.
Uncertainty is part of the shared human experience, but it looms over some more than others. Students from low-income households may not know where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep that night. That was my experience.
My family moved to the United States when I was 9 years old, seeking to escape the economic adversities and gang violence of El Salvador. What my parents envisioned as a safe haven simply became a new set of challenges to endure. They often found themselves unemployed. Without a check to pay for rent, we bounced from home to home, at times not having a place to sleep.
As a high school senior, I was too busy packing belongings in trash bags to think about what happened next; college was not in my plans. Additionally, as an undocumented student, I knew I could not receive federal financial aid and afford school — not to mention the fear of integrating myself into a system in which I felt unwelcome.
In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program provided me — and about 800,000 students like me — the opportunity to work. Suddenly, my construction job was not the only option.
At the last minute, I took the SAT, completed college applications and searched for scholarships. Fortunately, I was admitted into a community college’s honors business program. From the start, the program pushed and prepared me to transfer to a four-year institution, removing some uncertainty from my path. Montgomery College presented me an opportunity I thought I would never have, so I made the most of it. My accomplishments there earned me admissions into Georgetown — and a full scholarship to afford it.
Today, taking the initial steps to pursue an education seem obvious. But as the first in my family to do so, I was petrified I would fall.
The unknown elicits fear, but that fear can be channelled into a positive outcome. Not knowing what may come next presents an open field, a chance to explore and create. It can drive you to forge ahead and overcome unimaginable barriers. These pebbles can become stepping stones for self-growth. What is for certain is that a stage of uncertainty is only temporary. The consequential clarity is just a matter of time and effort.
Now, here I am at Georgetown University. Three years in and at the end of my academic career, I find myself grateful for the ride and wondering what comes next.
Many of us first-generation college students may be the only chance our families have at breaking the cycle of poverty. Our success in navigating this rocky road determines not only our futures but also the futures of our families. This pressure weighs on me; my parents think I have everything figured out. The truth is, I don’t. But showing them any sign of uncertainty gives them unnecessary worry; their shoulders are already weary from carrying wooden planks and cleaning materials.
This stressor rings even more true at Georgetown. Our university has a prominent pre-professional culture in which joining the right clubs is framed as the only path to the perfect internship or job. Any other outcome seems like a failure. For an impressionable first-generation student with no family precedent in the professional sphere, this construct is easy to believe. The truth is, the “right” steps are not absolute: They vary depending on personal circumstance. Many of my Georgetown peers may have considered a community college education to be a failure. Yet, had I gone straight to a four-year university, I would not have been equipped with the skills to succeed.
Just as pebbles in a hiking path pave the dirty mud beneath, uncertainty in the path of life paves the dullness, making life that much more exciting and worth experiencing. We each have our own paths; if they look different than someone else’s, that’s okay. Sometimes, among the pebbles is a hidden gem — an unexpected change, which throws off our plans but works for the best. Mine was homelessness and community college.
Deciding to devote my time to classes and put aside my family’s immediate needs was risky — but being in a place of limbo fuelled my drive, leading me to search for purpose and take control of my path. In uncertain times, you can feel lost, but that’s far from the case. It’s simply a stepping stone, a necessary stage before finding the mile marker.
These times present an opportunity to shape your character and decide which direction your path will take. As I say goodbye to the Hilltop, I’ll keep searching for more in the next stage in life.
Luis Rosales is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. GSP offers support services to over 650 low-income and/or first-generation college students. Proud to Be GSP is a series of Viewpoints written by GSPers, reflecting on their experiences as Georgetown students.