Miguel shares about his post-graduation goals, his path to graduation, and his advice for current and future AO students.
AO: Do you have any plans or goals after your graduation from the University of Denver?
Miguel: I'm not 100% sure what I'll be doing job-wise, but I do know that I'd like to work with at-risk youth or undocumented individuals. During my last semester I had an internship through CLLARO (Colorado Latino Advocacy and Research) and I worked as a Legislative intern for Senator Julie Gonzalez. I did a lot of the background work for her, which I really enjoyed. It definitely gave me some insightful experience and I am just excited to finally be able to get into an environment where I can utilize my education and put it to good use.
AO: As you think about graduating and moving forward professionally, what do you hope to first accomplish?
Miguel: Honestly, I'm excited to just start working and making an impact. Having a job where I can wake up in the morning and I'm content with my job and I'm not dragging and trying to get through to the weekend. That and being able to pay it back to the community and making meaningful impacts there. I've been in school for 16 years and it's crazy to think I'll be done this summer.
AO: What is your best attribute that you will bring to an employer?
Miguel: Humility. Sometimes it's a bit difficult to ground yourself, but I feel like through my experiences, I'll always have a humble part of me. Especially in the place I came from and grew up, and even where I'm at now, I'm just so thankful for the opportunities that have come to me and the position that I'm at.
AO: What was the most influential factor in your decision to attend college?
Miguel: No one in my family had really gone, and I was in a position to be able to. And my mom has always pushed me to be able to go to college and succeed. So fulfilling what she wanted for me makes me proud for both her and I. She was able to raise me right and be able to put me in a position where I was able to accomplish something like this. Here's a huge shoutout to her.
The fact that I didn't have to pay was also really cool to me. I thought "you're going to pay me to go to school?!" I'll take that. It's something not a lot of people have an opportunity to do, so I'm grateful for it. Especially because coming out of high school, I remember when everyone else was applying for things, my undocumented friends weren't able to apply for the same opportunities as those who were documented even though they were on-par or better academically, and that showed me a lot.
AO: Can you describe your transition from high school to college?
Miguel: It was interesting, I was a commuter student in my first year of college, and I was going to a PWI. I went to Abraham Lincoln High School, which was a 95% hispanic population compared to DU, so moving from one to the other was a bit scary. As I recall now, I had been going through some stuff, but I feel like the opportunities both through AO and the other programs I was a part of at school, really put me into a position to succeed. I would say the most growth came when I moved onto campus. Because before that I feel like I didn't really get the full college experience; I was going home, and it wasn't the same. Living with my mom was fine, but I couldn't grow into the new me until I left the environment that created who I was at the time.
Moving onto campus is when I joined my fraternity, I started becoming a mentor, started talking to more people. Being in class, and then being able to go back to my dorm in between classes and work on my homework all in the same environment, I'm glad I got to experience that. Overall, it might not have been the smoothest transition, but looking back from where I'm at now, I'd do it all over again.
AO: You previously referenced a book by Daisy Reyes that resonated with you for its description of being Latino in a predominantly white institution. Can you describe when you first experienced this in college? What was that like for you?
Miguel: Especially in my freshman year, I experienced it the most as I transitioned into college. I remember struggling with my Computer Science homework fairly often, and I had gone to office hours that entire first semester. I remember one day I had gone to class and asked the person next to me if they had done the homework already, and they mentioned that they had a private tutor that had helped them finish it. And this was just surprising to me because I didn't know that was something that was available for us. It also gave me a bit of insight, too, because I hadn't previously thought about how the other students around me had some resources that weren't available to me, or at least that I wasn't aware about at the time.
The partnerships and programs that I have been a part of have helped me navigate through it a lot, but I know that these things aren't always available for others who go through that same experience. The university has definitely done a lot of good programming and steps to mitigate that feeling and gap between students at a Predominantly White Institution, but as of now, they're kind of putting the responsibility on us as the people going through it to come up with solutions.
AO: What advice do you have for the AO students who come after you?
Miguel: I would say do not be afraid to ask for help. Personally, I really struggled with that coming into my Freshman year. I didn't really like reaching out to people and asking for help when I needed it. It made me feel like I was incompetent. But honestly, once I did start reaching out for those resources and started communicating, it made me feel so much better and that I wasn't the only one in that position. That is something I'd definitely want to let the next class of AO students know. Also just that people are genuinely willing to help. It's crazy. Asking for help is the hardest possible thing, but once you actually take that step it makes your whole world easier and more efficient.
For me, I experienced this in my transition from my first to my second year in college. I was a commuter student, and something was off, and at the time I didn't even know what it was. And in my second or third year they talked about it in one of our AO workshops and they brought up imposter syndrome and when I finally heard that term, it made what I was experiencing more validated for me. Because I didn't know that was a thing, and seeing it being out into words like that was really cool for me. Once I was able to break out of my funk and use the resources around me, I thought nobody else should have to feel that way.
Congratulations, Miguel! We can't wait to see what will come next.