Being undocumented has always played a big role in who I am. But it’s also been my biggest challenge in pursuing higher education. At least that’s what I thought before.

I came to Chicago from Uruguay when I was almost a year old and grew up sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my family in Albany Park.

As my dad walked miles to work every day, he and my mom were sure to teach me to appreciate education because educational opportunity is so limited in Uruguay. Nonetheless, I had a challenging start to high school because I struggled with anemia, which left me feeling fatigued.

My grade point average suffered, but halfway through high school, I began to turn things around. I took challenging classes and even earned dual credit through City Colleges of Chicago’s Early College program.

When it came time to apply for college, I felt so insecure sharing my undocumented status on college applications. I was raised to not talk about it, but I knew I had to find a way to pay for school.

Then, my counselor said if I earned a 3.0 GPA by high school graduation, I could attend City Colleges for free through the Star Scholarship program. I can’t tell you how hard I worked to get my GPA high enough to take advantage of that amazing opportunity.

My two years at Wright College were fantastic, and I earned an associate degree in marketing. Having such a solid introduction to college helped start me off on the right foot on a successful path forward toward a bachelor’s degree.

But college tuition can be so expensive. My parents were willing to go into a massive amount of debt to help me complete my bachelor’s degree since I couldn’t access financial aid, but I just could not let that happen.

So, the Wright College transfer director encouraged me to apply for scholarships. She helped me complete my application to Dominican University and find multiple scholarships that will fully fund my transfer journey, including one that truly changed my life—TheDream.US National Scholarship.

From help with paying for tuition to general advice, support is such an important part of college success for the over 17,000 undocumented students pursuing higher education in Illinois. That’s why I am so glad that House Bill 3438 passed. It connects students like me with support from a designated Dream Resource Liaison at their college.

I wouldn’t be here were it not for my parents and the support I received from Wright College. And this bill will help to make sure students throughout the state receive that same type of guidance while working toward a college degree.

To my fellow Dreamers, don’t be afraid to view your undocumented status as a positive. Colleges can be incredibly welcoming of undocumented students. With the right support, it is possible to work hard and create your own success story.

Florencia Laino, Wright College Alumna, Class of 2022

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