Memories of my childhood in El Salvador come to mind when I see kids playing in the streets.
I used to be one of them.
I grew up playing in the dirt, playing different games in the street, running and laughing with friends, and going hunting and fishing on the river across my backyard. But my favorite pastime of all was breaking down radios and TVs to see what was inside. In those days, I did not think past winning the games I was playing or hunting enough fish for my dinner. Remembering those days brings joy to my everyday life. Little did I know that my curiosity and passion for education and learning would lead me to become a mechanical engineer and get a degree from the best engineering school in North Carolina.
I remember like it was yesterday walking into my first professional interview for the Goodnight Scholars Program, which just so happened to be my birthday. The Goodnight Scholars Program has been much more than an investment, it has been a blessing. It has been the greatest gift a dreamer could ask for on his birthday! It has been educational, encouraging, and inspiring, most importantly, it has turned me into the man that I am today by providing me with experiences that challenged my perception about life.
After high school, I had decided to become an architect. I had experience building houses, and I have always been creative and curious, so it made sense at that point in my life. I considered engineering, but I did not think it was for me due to lack of confidence in my abilities. It was not until I started at Johnston Community College that I gained confidence, developed new skills, and started my journey as an engineer.
During the summer of 2018, I started engineering school at NC State because I wanted to get ahead and finish my degree on time. Next thing I knew, during the fall, I was on a plane for the first time after none years. I was heading to Boston with the Goodnight Scholars Program to network and explore Harvard and MIT in Massachusetts. I had never been so privileged to be able to travel and to have my own place. I could not have picked a better school to further my career and education other than NC State because of the Goodnight Scholars Program. This community of scholars makes me feel like I belong, from meeting scholars who have tutored and mentored me, to meeting scholars who have connected me with a professor for research opportunities. People in this community are looking to help and they are looking to pay it forward. I have met the nicest people and lifelong friends through this program.
After completing a successful summer and fall, one of my most memorable semesters as an undergraduate student was during my first spring. While I thought I had it all together, I decided to get involved in research while taking 19 credits hours. I was fine the first few weeks, but then the work got to me. It was during this semester where I got my first C in college. I was frustrated and angry with myself, but it was because of this that I learned a valuable lesson: The fear of failure had always given me the motivation to do better, but I had it all wrong. It is through failure that you learn the most valuable lessons in life. The semester after, I re-took the class and got an A+.
Thomas Edison did not fail to invent the light bulb 1000 times, he learned 1000 different ways to make an unsuccessful light bulb, which led him down the path towards success. I learned that failing is part of life’s learning experiences. I also learned to never overextend yourself and to set boundaries because the ultimate goal should not revolve around the grade, but rather how much are you learning to become good in your field of study.
Whether it was going to football and basketball games, volunteering and participating in Goodnight Scholars Program events, or going to mission trips and growing in my faith, my undergraduate experience was full of beautiful memories that I will cherish forever. The engineering curriculum was challenging, but if you are determined, dedicated, and passionate about what you do, you can accomplish anything.
As a first-generation immigrant and Hispanic student, I want to encourage those who have lost hope, those who have the talent but lack the opportunity. I want to be a voice for those students like myself in a country where a paper separates us from the rest.
I want to encourage others to never give up, never lose hope, and always dream big.
Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program