Get to know Diego, one of Access Opportunity's Student Ambassadors for the 2023-24 school year.
Diego is a Junior at Academy High School. He is in his first year in Access Opportunity as a member of the Class of 2029, and is already looking forward to going to college. Throughout the year, we will get to know him better through his stories, experiences, and advice for his fellow AO students.
In His Own Words
My name is Diego Lozano and I am part of the newest Access Opportunity Class of 2029. I was born and raised in Denver and I am a Junior at Academy High School. Some of my hobbies include playing guitar, playing soccer, and running track. These small things shape me and make me who I am, not only because I enjoy them, but also because of the lessons I learned from them. Soccer has taught me passion and competitiveness, track has taught me perseverance and patience, and playing guitar has taught me that practice makes perfect. Apart from that music has been a big way to express myself. Stories can be told through songs and also stored through them to immortalize them. Songs can serve as a time machine that can take you back to old feelings, which I love.
I'm a first-generation student. My mom grew up in poverty and had to miss out on an education in order to help their family. She didn't have many opportunities growing up, but she sacrificed so much working long hours and leaving everything she knew behind to make sure that her children's futures were full of them. She tells me getting an education is my only responsibility and she always pushes me to do better. To deal with the difficulties of growing up low-income and with my own self-doubt, I was able to use my religion as an escape, and from there I found a way to help others as well. I began giving testimonies at church and would see that I had the opportunity to help others by sharing my experiences. Ever since then, I have had an interest in public speaking and pursuing a career where I can help my community in greater ways. I am currently undecided as to what I will study in college, but I know that what I want to do is to make this world a better place, where everyone understands how much they are worth, and where they do not have to give up their dreams due to their circumstances.
AO: Are there any ways in your life or educational journey that you feel like a trailblazer?
Diego: I grew up in an environment where being a leader meant being better than everyone, the strongest, bravest, and the alpha of the pack. However, I do not agree with this definition because I do not associate leadership with power, I associate it with love. The moments where I am the proudest of my leadership are those where I made the choice to persevere for others, to be the strength for those that do not have it, and by doing so being a light in their world. Out of all the moments where I feel I demonstrated leadership, there is one that helped me grow the most and helped me learn a new definition of leadership. Being a leader is standing up for what is right, no matter the consequences.
I grew up surrounded by gang violence and drugs. Many of my classmates fell into these traps, and I even lost a close friend to them. I have always been peer pressured, but I never fell into it because I knew I had to be a role model for my family, my little sister, and my community. My family lived paycheck to paycheck, and deep down I knew I had to change this and my education was the best way to do so. I could not risk my future in exchange for being considered "cool", because my future was all that I had. Although I was ridiculed, bullied, threatened, and left feeling alienated because of my refusal to engage in these traps, I knew I had to stay strong against the pressure. I tried my best to protect my friends and encourage them to focus on bettering themselves too. I was willing to be the "loser" that gave unsolicited advice if it meant possibly saving the lives of those I love. I did not want to lose anybody else, and it broke my heart to see so many of my classmates make these fatal decisions. In an environment where I am supposed to be a "macho", I am a trailblazer because I am not afraid to spread love and kindness, and I will not think twice about extending a helping hand to anyone, even those who find me weak for doing so. Being a leader is not always easy, but my family and community need me, and with their love, I know I can blaze a better trail.
AO: How did you first feel when you first got accepted into Access Opportunity?
Diego: Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to save the world". Where I come from, education gets taken for granted frequently. I always knew I wanted to go to college, but I was always very aware that I was walking a path that not many people from my background had taken. Walking that path felt like walking on a tightrope. I was terrified and doubted myself, and I felt like every little mistake I made could knock me off.
Being accepted into Access Opportunity boosted my confidence in my ability to get accepted to college. I am very grateful because I know I will receive all of the support I need to successfully overcome the obstacles to get there. The workshops, counselors, and SAT prep calm my anxiety as a first-generation student and broaden my horizons. I now see college as only the first step towards achieving my dreams, and I know going much further is possible. Moreover, the other AO scholars that I have met have inspired me to believe in myself. Seeing other students that come from the same background as me achieving such incredible things has given me the confidence to believe in my ability to not only go to college but also excel further. The tightrope has begun to feel like a sidewalk and AO was the one to pour the cement.
AO: Who would you say is part of your personal support system? How do you support each other through life's highs and lows?
Diego: I come from an immigrant family who lived in severe poverty. Due to this, my mother was forced to leave school at a young age to be able to help her family. She grew up and immigrated to the United States when she was in her 20s, time passed and she started a family of 5 with my dad who passed away when my sisters and I were young. After that, she had to work hard day and night to give us a good life. Even with her busy schedule, my mom would try her best to be involved in our school life. She understood the importance of education and always pushed us to do our best in school. My older sister and I would see her efforts and we were motivated to excel in school and achieve our dreams, which is all my mother has ever asked of us. My mom has provided me with everything I need to succeed.
My sister being a bit older than me took on the challenging task of being the first person in our family to go to college. I remember how she would spend long hours in her room studying and preparing for tests or doing homework. I would feel bad and try my best to make sure that on the days she wasn't dealing with school she would enjoy them. I tried to be as funny as possible and have as much communication with her as possible. Due to her hard work, my sister was able to get accepted to college and made both me and my mom proud. Our communication and bond helped her get through college and navigate issues such as imposter syndrome, but it has also helped me now that it is my turn to start my college journey. She encourages me whenever I feel overwhelmed and helps me stay on the right path. Without their support, I probably would have given up on myself a long time ago. Thanks to what they have taught me, perseverance, resilience, hard work, and determination, I am now on a path toward a bright future and I cannot wait to make them proud.
AO: Are you involved in any groups or clubs at school? Why did you choose the one(s) you did?
Diego: Throughout high school, I have been involved in several activities, such as the National Honor Society, high school football, track and field, and soccer. As you can tell sports have been an essential part of my life. They have served as an escape and have helped shape me into who I am today. Sports not only serve as an opportunity to compete and have fun, but they also serve as an experience that teaches life lessons needed to succeed. They help build relationships and encourage team building. It also helps build confidence and teaches us the values of hard work and discipline. This was what I was able to learn. I began the summer of my freshman year by trying out for the football team. I didn't believe I could make it far due to my lack of confidence. As time went on, I pushed myself at every practice without expecting anything in return, but soon enough, my coach saw my effort and complimented me, which motivated me to work harder. He believed in me when I still did not believe in myself.
Sports helped me realize that I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. Growing up, my lack of confidence would cause me to downgrade myself, and my effort to do something I was passionate about would be under appreciated, or at least I felt it was. Support from my coach and teammates gave me so much purpose and made practice very enjoyable, and apart from that, it also contributed to growing my confidence. At school, I began to want to do challenging things and get out of my comfort zone. For example, I wanted to socialize with new people, participate more in class, and attempt to solve the most challenging problems or extra credit assignments. That year I even made the varsity team, but sadly ended the season early with a concussion. Though I had a pretty sad ending, the things I was able to learn in the sport not only helped me on the field but helped flourish my personality too. Being part of something bigger than myself gave me a purpose that encouraged me to push myself. I learned that life is full of challenges, but we have the power to overcome anything when we believe in ourselves. All it takes is a little bit of willpower.
Stay tuned to hear more from Diego throughout the year!