American dream at a Crossroads
Amanda Peña | Sunday, September 14, 2014
Two individuals I love were born in the United States, grew up in poverty as the children of Mexican immigrants and suffered in a world of gang violence, drugs and hunger until God brought them together in October 1982. Within six months they became 17-year-old teen parents and dropped out of high school to get married, work full-time and create a life together.
When their first daughter was born with a learning disability, they were overwhelmed with the responsibilities of ensuring she had the best available care on an income that barely afforded enough food. While some of their peers and family fell to addictions, incarceration and gang activity over the years, they raised their four daughters on the sidelines, affected by these circumstances but never absorbed in them. When she was 5 years old, their third daughter was deeply moved by the things she had experienced in this world, vowing with one of her cousins that they would be the first in their families to go to college.
Sixteen years later, she is now a senior set to graduate in May 2015 at Notre Dame — one of the most prestigious universities in the country and the alma mater for some of the most influential people in the world.
My parents, now married for 31 years, sacrificed all of their time, energy and resources to support the promise my cousin and I made long ago. I will never forget their reactions when they found out I would be going to college — let alone here — or their childlike excitement when they moved me into Welsh Family Hall. Never imagining they would set foot on a college campus in their lifetime, they cried and bought everything they could carry from the bookstore to brag to friends and coworkers about my joining the Fighting Irish family. I still remember my dad wanting to get an ND tattoo, giddy by the fact that he would now consider himself an Irish Mexican.
As graduation looms overhead, I’ve reflected on the challenges, memories and people that characterized my journey to the golden Dome. I have been working since I was 14 years old to offset costs I knew my parents couldn’t bear, and which help get me into college. Paying for my own extracurricular involvement, SAT/ACT exams and navigating the entire college process alone was difficult to do when all the adults in my life didn’t know what the FAFSA was or couldn’t proofread my applications because I used words that were “too big.” The night before I left for my home under the Dome, I was thrown a huge party and all of my lifelong family and friends were in attendance. They filled my pockets with every dollar they had in their wallets and shared their fears about me being the first to move so far away. After all of the pictures and jubilation, they made plans to see me graduate and began saving up over the years.
Every visit home turns into a party similar to my send-off: my family gives me what little they have to demonstrate their pride and support of my education. My 16-year-old neighbor was inspired to work hard in the classroom and at football practice to show his parents he can get into Notre Dame too. For his birthday present this year, he asked to see me graduate at Notre Dame. It moved me to tears when my uncles, aunts, neighbors and friends crowded around our only home computer to book flights and hotel rooms.
I ask you to now put yourself in my shoes to imagine how devastated they were when I informed them that they could no longer see me graduate in the stadium. With a lump in my throat, I called my parents and sisters to tell them only 3 of them would probably be allowed to see the commencement. Sure, there are other ceremonies, but that’s not the point.
The Campus Crossroads project originally claimed that the 2015 commencement plans would not be disrupted, a promise that was too-easily broken and blindsided many of us. Keep in mind though that there will still be six home football games scheduled in the 2015 season. In spite of my pride being a student, I am sickened that the University has once again demonstrated that football takes priority over its students. Without those home football games, the University would lose out on millions of dollars, so I am sure construction plans will be adjusted to prevent that from happening. Why can’t plans also be adjusted so we can have this one weekend to walk through the tunnel onto the field, slap the “Graduate Like a Champion Today” sign and emerge toward Touchdown Jesus with a degree and all of our supporters cheering wildly from the stands?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.