Pico Rivera resident Mayra Gradilla graduated from El Rancho High School in 2010 and obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Psychology from Pomona College. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University through Teach for America. We were so moved by her personal journey that we asked her to share it with us.
By Mayra Gradilla
As I walked through the halls of the Longworth House Building, one of the three office buildings used by the United States House of Representatives, I could not believe that I had the opportunity to intern in our nation’s capitol. I remember seeing the United States Capitol building in pictures many times as a child, but nothing prepared me for the experience I was about to receive. My mind raced thinking about how much of our country’s history had taken place within the Capitol. Being there, I could not help but contemplate my own journey.
I was born in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles, and raised in Pico Rivera. I am the third of four children; I have two older brothers and a younger sister. My parents came to the United States from Mexico for the same reason many immigrants journey here—in search of a better future. Back in Mexico, my parents did not have the opportunity to study beyond elementary school. They helped support their respective families by working in agriculture. When my parents came to the United States, they made it a priority to always stress the importance of education in all of our lives. As such, prioritizing education has always been at the forefront of all of our minds.
In one generation, my parents went from not having anyone study beyond elementary school, to their children being fortunate enough to attend some of the leading institutions of higher learning in the world; Harvard University, Stanford University, Pomona College, and Yale University. When my siblings and I were growing up, our parents always encouraged us to do anything that we set our minds to do. Although we lacked financial resources, my parents knew that we lived in a country that provided many resources to get us to where we wanted to be. For example, we applied for scholarships and college preparatory programs that would help us get to college. These resources exist and it is important to look for them. They exist for the sole purpose of helping students like myself (those that are from low-income and low-opportunity communities) because they expose students to different perspectives and experiences than they are used to. The world is diverse and it is important to be exposed to different perspectives and explore them. My parents always stood behind us and encouraged us to pursue any opportunity that presented itself to us. It did not matter if it was not close to home or not. My parents wanted us to grow and knew that there were great opportunities that were not close to home. They knew that we would have to leave at some point to be able to grow. I have therefore experienced first-hand that education drastically changes the lives of people.
Undoubtedly, being able to pursue higher education has drastically changed my family’s life. Pursuing higher education has afforded me diverse experiences. One of the most impactful experiences has been the opportunity to intern with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. I was able to witness the federal legislative process. I was fortunate to have this experience due to The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation. Without their help, I would have not been able to live and work in DC the summer after my sophomore year in college.
It is critical that students take chances and seek opportunities for their educational, personal, and professional enrichment. I hope that current high school students do the same because going to college opens up many doors and opportunities.
For me, I plan to spread this message to students that hail from communities like the one I grew up in. I have done so this past year teaching at a high school through Teach For America and I plan to continue teaching. I hope to remain connected to the Education field because I want other students to experience for themselves education’s transformative power.