By Jenn Sanchez
When I left El Paso for the University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 1995, I was the first person in my family to leave for college. I also was one of a handful of students of my high school's graduating class of 300 to leave home.
My parents didn't know how to help me.
(L-R) Sisters Amanda and Jenn join cousin December for a group hug at a family get-together in El Paso, Texas.
Today, almost 17 years later, my baby sister, Amanda Sanchez is starting college at Texas State University under very different circumstances, starting with a strong support system.
My family has slowly been learning how to navigate the higher-education system. My mother, father, step-mom, a sister, brothers, cousins and I have slowly started moving the boulders out of our paths that have blocked my family for generations from a college education.
When they started, my mother, a Head Start volunteer, was raising four kids as a single mom. My father, a mechanic at the school district, was about 45 when he decided to follow his dream of teaching about cars. My sister was a single mom trying to make ends meet as a telemarketer.
But, earning college degrees is changing my family's future forever.
I'm so proud of my family. We've all come so far. When it came time for my little sister to go to college, she didn't have to go by herself. My dad and step-mom drove her eight hours to drop her off. They did the family tour of the Texas State campus. And now, she's moving into her dorm and learning how to navigate the system.
I'm so proud of my baby sister, Amanda, who already earned her associate's degree in high school and will start as a junior studying psychology.
With that, little sister, I'd like to share some advice with you that I wish someone would have told me when I left for the University of Texas Austin.
- Be PROUD of who you are, where you come from, our family and being Latina.
- Never take "no" for an answer. Sometimes, you need to figure out another way with someone's help or by changing the policy.
- Always ask someone for help when you can't figure it out.
- Don't trust anyone. Trust your gut.
- Only about half of the freshmen students you start school with will actually graduate from college within six years. Stay focused on your goals!
- Don't take your education for granted because there are many women worldwide who never get the chance.
- There will always be another party and another cute guy. Study, if needed.
- Make your own opportunities! Don't wait for them to find you.
- Get an internship in your field ASAP and learn Spanish.
- Always help those coming up behind you.
- Join a national Latina service sorority.
I'd also like to wish the rest of my family a wonderful school year:
* Jose Sanchez, my dad, an automotive instructor and car club advisor at El Paso Community College (EPCC).
* Priscilla Sanchez, my sister, a master's degree in education student at University of Phoenix in El Paso.
* Frank Lopez, my cousin, a biology senior at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.
* Dean Sanchez, my cousin, a business junior at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
* Steven Tapia, my cousin, a business sophomore and football player at Fordham University in New York City.
* Joe Ray Sanchez, my brother, a business sophomore at EPCC.
* Adriene Salgado, my cousin, a sophomore at Texas Christian University.
* Patrick Sanchez, my brother, an automotive sophomore at EPCC.
* Anthony Tapia, my cousin, a sophomore at EPCC.
* December Sanchez, my cousin, a business management freshman at UTEP.
You see, Amanda, you are not alone!
I'm rooting for you all the way, little sister!
Jennifer W. Sanchez, a former journalist, works as a nonprofit director and is a master's of public administration student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.