One of the most challenging things about being undocumented is the uncertainty. For me, that challenge was magnified when I started thinking about college.

I was born in Mexico, and I came to the United States with my family when I was three years old. I grew up in the Albany Park neighborhood and lived there for fifteen years with my parents and younger sister.

I loved my high school experience at Lane Tech—I took eight Advanced Placement classes and joined the orchestra my freshman year to learn to play the violin. I tried to meet as many people and join as many extracurriculars as I could. I knew I’d be successful in college if I had the motivation and the financial resources.

Motivation was the easy part—getting a bachelor’s degree has always been a sure thing in my mind because I’m focused in school and earn good grades. But I wasn’t sure about how to pay for college. Throughout high school, the idea of funding my degree felt like such an overwhelming burden.

So, when I learned about City Colleges of Chicago’s Star Scholarship program, attending Wright College was an easy decision. The scholarship covered all of my tuition and books.

Then, while I was still in high school, a college-aged friend told me about TheDream.US scholarship they received. The award is designed to help undocumented students like us earn a bachelor’s degree. Even then, I knew I had to get it, and securing TheDream.US scholarship became the focus of everything I did.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright College had so much to offer. I decided to pursue an associate degree in computer science and set my sights on software engineering as a career. Starting college right in the middle of the pandemic meant classes were all held online, but my teachers were so patient and kind as we all learned how to live and learn remotely together.

I joined the Wright College Student Government Association (SGA) as a senator and later became the director of the SGA public relations committee. The advising and transfer centers became integral to all my future planning. I spoke a lot with Susan Calabrese, the director of the Transfer Center, and Maria Llópiz, the associate dean of student services, about my desire to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) because of its strong technology and engineering departments. I used the online transfer program, Transferology, and focused on taking the largest number of City Colleges classes I could to avoid paying more later.

Like I said, one of the most challenging things about being undocumented is the uncertainty. But when I got the news that I received TheDream.US scholarship and was able to use it at my first-choice school, I felt so set. I have the motivation and the skills to be successful in college, but I just needed that financial support. TheDream.US scholarship covers almost all UIC’s costs—it’s a huge burden off my shoulders.

My luck seemed to multiply when Director Calabrese told me about the CME Group Star Scholarship award. As a computer science major, she told me it could offer me even more financial support. I couldn’t believe I earned that too.

My parents tell me they’re grateful for the hard work I’ve put in to earn scholarships and figure out a way to make college possible. I have cousins who are also first-generation college students who have had to pay for college out of pocket. My sister doesn’t exactly understand the weight of it all as a fourth grader, but I want to help her stay involved in education because I know this path can lead to a comfortable and stable career.

Because of my immigration status, I have always had to push through my own doubts about whether pursuing higher education is worth it. But I’ve learned to take things one step at a time and celebrate each win as it comes.

As far as my future goes, I’m excited about what I can accomplish at UIC. As soon as I graduate, I hope I can start working as a software engineer. The tech space is always booming with new companies and job opportunities. Working at a top company like Google, Tesla, or Amazon would be dream job, and further down the line, I’m thinking about getting a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).

To my undocumented classmates at City Colleges: I encourage you to do your research to learn about all the resources available to you. Talk to the right people—there really are a bunch of them at City Colleges of Chicago.

-Diego Ramirez, Wright College Alumni, Class of 2022

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