Inside the Classroom

Two New College Freshmen Talk About ‘Beating The Odds’

When school starts this month, some teenagers will find themselves where — just a few years ago — they didn’t imagine: at college. In this ongoing series, “Inside the Classroom,” two new college freshmen talk about what they had to overcome to get there.

 

Both Victor Rodriguez and Thomas Perez said that the support from the nonprofit, CollegeCommunityCareer, helped them reach higher education. They were among more than 130 students from around the country who gathered at a summit on "Beating the Odds" at the White House this summer.
Both Victor Rodriguez and Thomas Perez said that the support from the nonprofit, CollegeCommunityCareer, helped them reach higher education. They were among more than 130 students from around the country who gathered at a summit on “Beating the Odds” at the White House this summer.

When school starts this month, some teenagers will find themselves where — just a few years ago — they didn’t imagine: at college. In this ongoing series, “Inside the Classroom,” two new college freshmen talk about what they had to overcome to get there.

Victor Rodriguez, 18, recently graduated from Spring Woods High in Spring Branch and Thomas Perez, 18, graduated from Willowridge High in Fort Bend. They met through the nonprofit CollegeCommunityCareer, which helps prepare first generation, low-income students for higher education. Rodriguez and Perez talk about how it made a difference in their lives and what they learned from a summit on “Beating the Odds” at the White House.

Here is a transcript of their conversation:

Thomas Perez: “We’ve seen each other around because of the CollegeCommunityCareer, but one thing I always wondered was how it felt where you’re from, from your side of town?”

Victor Rodriguez: “Well, I can’t speak for anyone else that, you know, is from Spring Branch ISD. But me, I was molded by a very negative environment. Because everyone else was just caught up in this vicious cycle that just set you up for failure. And it’s pretty bad. It sucks.”

Perez: “People doubt you because of where you’re from, like, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re not going to go far because you come from here or you went to this school … I’m from Missouri City. Where I’m from, you don’t see success that much. You don’t see people actually aiming high. Like, their biggest achievement in life would be a high school diploma and not even that. I’ve been around some people, some negative people in my life as well. And they’re not in my life right now, you know. They’re either in jail or they’re dead.”  

Rodriguez: “Well, I noticed I was getting in too deep. Whenever violent altercations, whenever they started happening way too frequently, they started becoming a normal thing, I was, like, ‘Yo, what am I doing?’ I can’t even go grocery shopping with my mom because I might run into some people and I don’t know what they’ll do to me in front of her. I don’t want her to see that, you know?”

Perez: “Me, it was more, I faced personal challenges as well. My parents were going through some legal issues. And that affected me in a big way. They were going through some immigration things, and it was kind of bad because their lawyer told them, ‘Oh, you’re going to get deported.’ Being at a such a young age, I would think of, ‘Oh! What am I going to do if my parents were to disappear, just be gone?’ And it wasn’t solved until this year, senior year. So it was always in my head … I’m grateful for everything that’s happened because I decided to stick to the right path and decided to move away from the negatives and bring positives. It took some time, but, little by little, it’s amazing everything that’s happened to me. The support system I’ve grown with CollegeCommunityCareer. One thing that’s also helped me, actually, being on the football team for four years. The coaches were such a support, my teammates.”

Rodriguez: “And then CollegeCommunityCareer, they took me out on my first college visit and I was immediately sold. It seemed like utopia to me, you know? It was, it was a utopia to me. I was like, you’re telling me there’s a lifestyle where I don’t have to worry about this violent stuff? I don’t have to worry about looking over my shoulder every five seconds because I might get hurt, I might get shot at? I saw that as my one-way ticket out.”

Perez: “I remember when Miss Kathy called — I was at work, actually, and it was raining — and she called me and she was, like, ‘Hey! Do you want to go to the White House and visit Michelle Obama?’ I was, like, ‘What?!'”

Rodriguez: “‘What?!’ Exactly.”

Perez: “Of course! What kind of question is that! And I remember telling my parents. Man, they were so happy!”

Rodriguez: “Yeah, my mom, she likes to brag about me with co-workers at work but, while we were over there it was crazy! Like, all these monuments look a lot better in person.”

Perez: “I loved hearing her (First Lady Michelle Obama) speak because it’s easy for other people that haven’t grown up like we have to say, ‘Oh, you know, it’s tough. You have to do this, you have to do that.’ In comparison to her, she’s actually been there. She’s been told that she’s not going to do anything or be anyone in life. And she’s proved them wrong. Look at where she’s at now.”

Rodriguez: “Yeah, she connected to us on a more personal level, pretty much saying, ‘I was exactly where y’all were at years ago.’

Perez: “Anything is possible.”

Rodriguez: “Like you guys being here at the White House is proof that you can do anything.”

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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