by Vanessa Barajas, AVID Alumna
Vanessa Barajas was a student speaker at this year’s Summer Institute in Sacramento. Below is her speech as prepared. You can also watch her speech!
I feel a kick to the ribs. Next, I get kicked in the face. I could taste the blood on my lip. I have officially been jumped into a gang. I was only 13 years old.
Ever since I can remember I have always been around gangs. My family had been affiliated with gangs. We never really had money for anything but food and shelter and my mom was a teen mom raising two little girls, working hard to put food on the table.
As I began to grow up, school became less of a priority for me. Actually, I pretty much hated school; I thought it was a waste of my time. When I started getting involved in gangs, things got worse. I would never go to school. When I did I’d just sit in class and sleep. I went to juvenile detention for the first time when I was 14 years old and I hated it even more than I hated school. Since I would get into trouble a lot, the juvenile detention system assigned me a probation officer. This person told me if I behaved for at least a year, I would be off probation. So, I decided I wanted to be off of probation as quickly as possible, and I knew that would take some big changes.
I remembered I had a friend my freshman year who told me about a class called AVID. I looked into this class, applied, and before I knew it I was in the class preparing to go to college. AVID encouraged me to do better in school, so I started changing my habits: I was never late to class, I started turning in my assignments, and I participated in class a lot more. This started to show on my progress reports. My P. O. noticed, and as a result I was let off probation 10 months early. My AVID teacher had been my math teacher my freshman year. She first met me when I was a gang member but, even then, she always tried to encourage me to do well. She was the first person that showed me that she cared about my future. No matter how much I rejected her my freshman year, she never gave up on me. She knew I had the full potential to go to college, and she didn’t want me to miss that opportunity.
AVID has made my life better; it’s opened many doors of opportunity for me. My teachers and classmates are always open to help in any situation; and they are like another family. AVID helped me stay out of trouble. Before I became involved with AVID, I didn’t think I would fit into anything that AVID offered. I didn’t think I was good enough because I have a past that might make people think that I am a bad person. AVID has taught me that I am not my past. I am much more than a gangster. My AVID family took me in not caring what kind of past I had and did not judge me for the mistakes that I’ve made. If anything, they understood me. When I’m in AVID, I’m the true Vanessa. I am a volunteer, a mentor, a positive force. My AVID family is always there for me. This has been so encouraging and uplifting for me. It made me trust people and helped me see the good in others. Also, it gave me the confidence to express myself in the same way as the people I began to look up to did. I became involved in my community through volunteering at several places. The opportunity to do something good for my community made me realize that there is so much more I can do.
Because of AVID, I want to go to college. I now have goals that I want to accomplish and a vision to achieve. In my life, I’ve had people who have discouraged me by telling me that I won’t graduate from high school and go to college. When I hear these negative comments, I’m motivated even more to accomplish my goals.
I’m interested in criminology. I am considering being a criminal investigator or lawyer. I love seeking out the truth and standing up for what’s right. These careers would allow me to do both of these things. I thank AVID, my classmates, mentors, teachers, and my mom for seeing the goodness in me that was always there and for helping me get through rough times.
I am the first person in my family ever to graduate from high school. I will also be the first to attend college. In three short months I will be attending Western Oregon University, where I have received enough scholarships and grants to completely cover my undergraduate education.
In five years I see myself as a college graduate headed towards law school. My path and this vision wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for AVID, and I am incredibly thankful.
Vanessa Barajas is a graduate of McKay High School in the Salem-Keizer Public School District in Oregon, where she spent two years in the AVID Elective class. Vanessa was an Honor Roll student, a Scholar Athlete, and earned the Turn Around Award, the Leadership Award, the Recognition of Excellence Award, and the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Award, which earned her a scholarship. She will attend Western Oregon University.