Your Future Is Bright, But All You See Is Darkness

Andrew Sepulveda shares his journey from El Rancho High School to MIT, while battling depression.


You made it! You pushed through your rigorous high school classes, completed all of your college and scholarship applications, and now, as class valedictorian, you’re making your way up to the graduation stage to deliver a speech to the class of 2018.

It’s a speech students and faculty will remember for years. It’s honest and it’s emotional. The crowd cheers you on in support and in that moment, everything is all right. In the Fall, you’ll attend MIT—rumor has it that in the history of El Rancho High School, you’re the third student to be accepted. Your future is looking bright, but all you can feel is darkness.


This was the sentiment of Andrew Sepulveda, a Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and El Rancho High School alum, as he graduated from high school last June. And while the buzz of the summer embodied his classmates, who probably spent summer hours working a part-time job, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the last few weeks of Pico Rivera before they started college, Andrew spent his days in therapy trying to resolve the burden of his deep depression.


“It all started in late April,” recalls Andrew. “My boyfriend was gone, my sister was away, and I was working through issues with my family. The reality of not getting accepted into top schools such as Harvard and Yale began to sink in, and rejection letters for scholarships heightened my worry about my $72,000 cost of tuition. I felt very lonely, sad and disconnected. Everything added up at once and it was too much for me to handle.”


After graduation, Andrew hit an all time low with his depression. He quit his job to focus on going to therapy, but even with daily 2-hour sessions, his loneliness and depression still haunted him. After two suicide attempts, Andrew’s therapy sessions were bumped to 8-hour daily sessions and an increase in antidepressants.


“I would wake up, go to therapy, come home and sleep. My mom was concerned about my safety. I felt like I had no purpose. At one point, my family and I decided that I was too depressed to move 3,000 miles across the country. I was going to give up my spot at MIT.”


Andrew did experience ounces of hope during his depression. Simple things such as getting Boba drinks with friends and hanging out helped ease his mind. “When I was alone, it made me overthink. Being with friends or company was the best distraction.”


Through faith, therapy and talking more with his family, Andrew decided that he had to push through and make his way to MIT. In late August, he flew across the country and stepped onto MIT’s campus. The thoughts of what to expect of his roommates, classes and the overall environment made him anxious, but within the first week, Andrew felt alive and well.


“Through all of this I learned that I am resilient. I realize now that not getting accepted into Harvard and Yale was a good thing. Then I would have agonized over selecting which college to go to and I may not have chosen MIT. Now that I’m at MIT, it all makes sense. I was meant to be here. The courses are incredibly hard but there’s a shared sentiment that no one is going to succeed here by doing it alone. Even strangers walking by who see what you’re working on will stop by and offer help. It truly is the best place for me…my mind is constantly being challenged with academics and I never feel alone.”


For fellow DONS and students suffering from depression, Andrew recommends being honest. “Tell people about it. Let them know you’re feeling alone and need someone to sit with you or listen.” For parents, Andrew recommends that parents lend an open ear to listen but not give advice. “Sometimes we just want our parents to ask us how we’re doing so we can open up to them, but not have to hear their judgments or advice. We just need to know that they are listening.”

Andrew is not alone in his depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Teen depression appears to be on the rise equally among urban, rural, and suburban populations. First-and-second generation Hispanics are significantly more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than immigrants, according to research conducted by faculty members at New York University. Additionally, the prevalence of depression in Latino women is higher (46%) than Latino men (19.6%), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Self-harm is often associated with depression. Never ignore comments or concerns about suicide. Always take action to get help for a friend or loved one. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, there are many resources available to help teens and young adults, including:


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on
  • The It Gets Better campaign and The Trevor Project, which provides a national, 24-hr, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth at 866-488-7386. The Trevor Project also provides an online chatand confidential text messaging—text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200.


“When you’re in a depressed state, you think you’ll never be happy again,” says Andrew. “Just know that you have a purpose. Get help and work through it because there’s something great waiting for you.”

“BECOMING” with Mrs. Michelle Obama

On Thursday, November 15th, after a long day of touring the college campus of UC Irvine, and a bus ride during rush-hour traffic, many of the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera students made their way through the doors of the Forum in Los Angeles, to hear Former First Lady Mrs. Obama talk about her new biography, “BECOMING.”

The opportunity was made possible through a partnership with the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros and Better Make Room, a movement launched by Mrs. Obama to support and inspire students to aim for higher education.


As part of her book tour, Mrs. Obama made it a point that her BECOMING events be accessible to as many people as possible, and not just those with means or who happened to be by a computer when the tickets went on sale. In partnership with Live Nation, Mrs. Obama gave away thousands of complimentary tickets to people around the country, particularly to young people growing up in communities like she did.  Mrs. Obama wanted everyone, especially young people, to see them in her story—to see the value in the fullness of their stories and to imagine who they might become in the years ahead.


As Mrs. Obama spoke in earnest of her youth and life leading up to the White House, many students nodded their heads in agreement as she shared her experiences, laughed at her jokes and candid responses, and were mesmerized by her words.  It was truly a moment those in attendance will never forget and will also be inspired by.




Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera – A Year in Review

With each year that goes by, we gain more momentum in fulfilling Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s mission of reaching one college degree in every Pico Rivera household. This year seemed to have gone by fast and we have much to reflect on and celebrate.


We began 2018 with another one of our students being recognized by ABC7’s “Cool Kids.” Julio Ornelas, who collected toys for children with cancer, was featured on the Los Angeles news station’s segment that highlights students who are making a difference in their community.

We held our first G1DPR club meeting for the class of 2019—this is the time and place where students discuss how they are going to dominate the college admissions process in the coming year. We also hosted workshops for the graduating class of 2018, which focused on topics to keep our students well prepared to ace exams in college, financial management and more.

Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera

In February, Julio Ornelas received news that he was awarded a Coca-Cola Scholarship, becoming the first student from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera to be named a Coca-Cola Scholar!

In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday in March, I participated in Read Across America as a VIP reader. I’ve always believed that reading is the foundation to student success in school, so it was an honor to participate in this national event.

As Spring break rolled around, students made their way north for our annual Northern California college campus tours. The first stop was Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, followed by Notre Dame de Namur University, Stanford University, The West Coast Ivy, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz. The group also had an opportunity to make a quick stop to Fisherman’s Wharf!

In May, we participated in Better Make Room’s College Signing Day—a nationwide event that was launched by Former First Lady Michelle Obama that asks the many first-generation high school graduating students to take a pledge to higher education.


The Class of 2018 walked the graduation stage in June, and by July we celebrated our graduates at our Summer Send Off Luncheon. Students were matched with college alumni for a round of Q&As.  Parents were also invited so they could ask questions about college life and feel more at ease about sending their child away to college. And I had a lot of fun raffling off fun prizes from computer printers to microwaves and toilet paper and other fun college survival necessities!

Summers don’t slow down for this group. In July, Michelle Sandoval, our program director, lead several workshops for class of 2019 members. During the month of July, students participated in workshops focused on personal statement, college application, resumes, practice interviews and more.

Once school was in full session by September, club meetings were back on track. September’s meeting had a huge turnout—a testament that the work we do with the students at El Rancho High School is sought after and appreciated.


To close out the year, were two very special events. In October, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its volunteers came together to donate 10 books to every kindergarten student in Pico Rivera—typically over 800 books in all! It’s a fun event that gets our future college grads excited about reading and starting or adding to their own personal library at home.

And just last month, through the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation’s partnership with Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room, we were able to offer an opportunity for our G1DPR students to attend Mrs. Obama’s “Becoming” Book Tour at the Forum in Los Angeles.

As we close out 2018, I want to express gratitude to the students, their parents, staff and faculty at El Rancho High School, our program director, Michelle Sandoval; and our partners for helping us continue to provide experiences that influence and encourage our Pico Rivera youth to aim for higher education.


Wishing everyone a Happy 2019!



Jacki Cisneros