By Maria Arevalo
In April 1995, at age 18, my mother welcomed me into the world. She was a few weeks out from her graduation from University High School and nervous about what the future had in store for her and her new baby.
My mom, Siomara Arevalo, is a first-generation Mexican American. My grandparents immigrated to the United States in October 1974 and worked hard to provide a good life for their children. Their biggest dream was for their children to go to college and accomplish whatever their hearts desired. My grandparents instilled the importance of education in all of us, especially my mother.
Some told my mom it would be impossible. How can a first-generation student, now a new mother, attend college and succeed? Especially since she was one of the few in her family who spoke English, and that family was low-income and sometimes had only bread and beans for dinner.
One of the things people tell me often, is that I don’t know how to take no for an answer when it comes to people telling me what they think I can accomplish. I can honestly say, I get that from my mother.
Despite what some told her, my mother found a path to college. She did her FAFSA, she applied to where she could, and she researched for scholarships. One day, she stumbled across an advertisement for the MAC Program. It was just implemented, and they were looking for applicants. Taking a chance, my mom applied. Therefore, in 1995, my mom became one of the first recipients of the MAC grant.
I am proud to say, my mom became the first in our family to graduate from college. She attended Baylor University and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Political Science.
Some of my first memories are sitting in our bedroom and watching my mom do her homework. She would take me on campus to see the bears, and I attended the Baylor alumni bonfires. I went with her to Baylor games dressed as a cheerleader. My mother made college normal for me. She made me know that college was something I not only could achieve, but I belonged there. I never had to doubt myself.
My mom gave me something she didn’t have. She put higher education within my reach, and college was never some unknown scary land for me.
I became the second in our family to graduate from college. I received my bachelor’s degree in communication, with a special concentration in rhetorical and cultural studies from St. Edward’s University in 2017. Soon after, I came back to Waco with the intention to give back to the community I love. I’m here today because of those who helped create a path for me. I am now in a position to give back to my community because this community gave to me and my family. Waco is a strong and diverse place that I’m proud to call my home.
In August 2018, I was hired at the very place that gave my mom an opportunity to better her life and mine. My very first job out of college was as the MAC & scholarships coordinator for the MAC Program at Waco Foundation. I was able to talk with students who were in the same place as my mother was when she was scared and didn’t know how to make a path to achieve their dreams.
While working with my community and getting inspired by seeing students achieve their dreams, I decided to take it one step further. I’m extremely proud and thankful to say that in December this year, I was the first in my family to receive a master’s degree in education from Angelo State University, with a concentration in student development and leadership in higher education.
I know the power education holds. My grandparents took a leap of faith and moved to a different country where they didn’t understand or speak the language. They took any job they could get to try and put food on the table every night. They taught us all the value of hard work and dedication. My mom taught me the value of believing in myself and paying it forward.
Maria Arevalo is director of post-secondary education initiatives for Prosper Waco.