This past graduation season, Desiree Martinez became the first in her extended family to walk across the stage and earn her college diploma. And now, just before the next batch of first-generation students begin their journey at the University of California, Los Angeles – her alma mater – and other colleges across the country, she wrote a fiery letter to the guidance counselor who tried to discourage her from applying to a top-tier school. (In 2016, UCLA accepted just 18 percent of California residents.)
In her short letter, she recalls how difficult it was to tell her counselor she wanted to get into UCLA. “I knew it was an incredibly difficult school to get into; I was terrified,” she wrote on La Comadre. “You let out a sigh; I watched as a frown and puzzled look quickly grew on your face. You commented, ‘I don’t know why counselors push students into these schools they’re not ready for.’ My heart fell as you continued, ‘students only get their hearts broken when they don’t get into these schools and the students that do get in come back as dropouts.’”
As a young woman, Desiree was already filled with self doubt. As one of the few people from her family to finish high school, she knew she was navigating uncharted waters. She didn’t need her counselor, a white woman who she said also discouraged Latino students from taking AP classes, to doubt her as well.
When she walked out of the office, she headed over to her AP US History teacher’s classroom. There, Mr. Palomo gave her a pep talk as tears streamed down her face. Back then, Desiree didn’t stand up for herself, but now she has an important message to the counselor: “You encouraged me to fight inequalities in education,” she wrote. “You inspired me [to] come back to LAUSD where I worked with students of my own. Low-income students don’t need educators who discourage them from pursuing their dreams, the media already does [a] tremendous job [at that]. We need people who are willing to believe in us and realize that we’re not broken. As students from low-income communities, we are powerful, intelligent, and worthy of educators who support our wildest endeavors.”
Read the rest of her powerful words here.