Jesse’s Blog

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For the past couple months, I have been working to understand how I came to reach my current position in life. From the day I found out I was accepted to Harvard back in early 2009 to my return from my travels around the world in early 2012, it seems that I’ve been anticipating the moment when my alarm goes off and I wake up next to my Mother and Brother in my small apartment in San Diego, California. My life for the past 3 years feels similar to a Disney Movie and I still have trouble accepting it as reality.

This persistent disbelief in my current situation stems from a childhood perceived as an “anchor baby” and a “welfare baby”, an adolescence described as “just the son of our cleaning lady”, and teenage years treated as a “threat to society” despite my straight A’s in school. Even before I could speak, people have been making assumptions of who I am. As much as I fought my placement in these pre-determined roles based on my race and class status, I couldn’t help taking on the physical and emotional strains of these expectations.

Thankfully, these past 3 years at Harvard and beyond have forced me to struggle with my past, present, and future in a way that has led me to take hold of my own identity and begin to discover a role I can actively fulfill based on my merit, skill, and passion instead of where I was born or the family I was born into. Armed with the tools learned at Harvard, in my travels, and through my volunteer, work, and fellowship experiences, I continue to unravel the history of my people and work to contribute to the future of our community.

This summer came when I needed it most and has contributed to the continual growth of my self and of my passion for service. Although “Self-Knowledge” has always been important to me, I can finally put a name on the concept and realize the utility of self-knowledge in helping others. I began in Arizona with the Nogales Summit for Youth Leadership (NSYL); went on to complete the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellowship at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley; and am currently in Tokyo, Japan working with HLAB (Harvard College Japan Initiative- Liberal Arts Beyond Borders).

Like I said, I still can’t believe this is real life. Who knew this boy from San Diego could possibly have these opportunities?

I threw myself into these experiences where I have learned many lessons- some of which, I haven’t even realized I learned yet. Understandably, a caveat of this intense and continual immersion is that the time for reflection is very limited and space for blog posts can seem rushed or underdeveloped.

For this reason, with summer coming to a close, I hope to communicate select lessons from this summer and these experiences through this Harvard Admissions Office Blog that I have kept since my early years as a Harvard Student.

Harvard is a place of intense challenges- academic, personal, emotional, and otherwise. It can even be described as a Love-Hate relationship, but I guess that’s all part of the process of self-discovery. All I know is that from my perspective now, after 3 years of successes and failures, or maybe from this side of the world, I see Harvard as the training ground that is preparing me to change the world at my fullest potential.

The excitement of the weekend’s activities was only matched by the enthusiasm of the pre-frosh. After speaking with many of them and being asked about my experiences at Harvard, hearing them talk about how grateful they were for being able to go to college reminded me of how important it is to stay strong with the semester’s finish line in sight.

Times like these really help me realize just how incredible Harvard is. After talking through the endless opportunities available here, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for the friends I’ve made and the growth I’ve experienced because of Harvard.

To hear a few words about how Visitas Weekend went, check out the latest Video below. My Special Guest and one of my Pre-Frosh, Wil, was able to share a few words about his experience so check out the video!

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Visitas Weekend has finally come! Every April, Harvard opens its gates to the admitted students for a jam-packed weekend full of diverse events, great food, and incredible conversations. This is an important weekend because the admitted students have to make the decision of where to spend their college careers. It’s an exciting time of college exploration and finding out if Harvard is right for you.

My favorite part about this weekend is meeting the Admitted Students- or as we call them at Harvard- the “Pre-Frosh.” Current students get the chance to host Pre-Frosh in their dorms during Visitas in order for a chance to see what it’s really like to go to Harvard. Hosts are also there to provide any kind of advice, guidance, or past experiences to help the Pre-Frosh make their decision. I signed up for 3 and I can’t wait to pick them up and show them around once they get here!

Another one of my favorite parts of this weekend is that Presencia Latina falls on the Friday of Visitas. Harvard’s Presencia Latina is a spectacular Latin Arts Showcase where groups from across the Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston communities can come together to celebrate the Latin culture. I really hope some of my Pre-Frosh can make it to the show! I was at Dress Rehearsal last night until the early morning so I know the show is going to be a great one, as always.

Another reason why this year is so special is because Presencia Latina has reached it’s 10th Year! That’s an entire decade of Latin Arts. I really appreciate that Harvard gives us the resources and space to celebrate a culture that means so much to me and I know that we’ll continue sharing this beautiful culture for years to come! That was one of my concerns about coming across the country to college- I thought I would lose my culture. Luckily, Harvard provides a ton of opportunities to celebrate the culture you grew up in as well as learn of the diverse set of cultures that make up Harvard’s student body. This weekend will be unforgettable.

To get a look in to what last year’s Presencia Latina looked like, check out this video!

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I love learning about other students’ journeys to college. Last week, I was able to host a few students from Prep for Prep who all blew me away with how articulate, intelligent, and incredible they were. Showing them around Harvard and getting to know them definitely provided me with extra motivation to finish off the week strong as they reminded me of why I’m here: to take full advantage of the opportunities of a college education and to do my best to pave the way for future students who have big dreams.

These high school juniors all had incredible things to say and I wanted to make sure I shared their words with you. Don’t be afraid to share your voice.

This past weekend was Junior Parent Weekend at Harvard and I had the honor of having my Mother and Brother come visit in order to share in the experience with me.

Check out the video below to see how it went. I wanted to give you a real look into how their visit impacted me so I hope you enjoy!

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No matter where you go to school, you have the opportunity to get out into the community and learn from the people who make up the world outside of your campus. I had the privilege of doing just that when I went to visit Somerville Teen Empowerment, a non-profit organization that works with youth.

Somerville is a community just north of Harvard, and after hearing the Youth Organizers of Teen Empowerment perform at the Black Arts Festival’s Arts & Activism Showcase, I had to go in for a closer look!

Being able to do that is only one of the many blessings of being a college student! Don’t worry though, I’m here with the inside scoop to give you a peek in to what Somerville Teen Empowerment has to offer! Check out the video below!

Black History Month at Harvard has definitely been one of my favorite parts of the semester. In addition to big events with delicious food, we have the chance to honor Black historical figures, faculty members, and even current students for their achievements. The Black Students Association (BSA), Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (HSBSE), Harvard College Black Pre-Law Association (BPLA), Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW), Black Men’s Forum (BMF), and many other organizations took part in raising awareness about and celebrating Black History.

One of the events, titled Black and Brilliant, was the perfect opportunity to honor faculty members and current Harvard College Seniors for their work in the Black Community and beyond. Taking part in such a great event and recognizing just how much the student honorees have done in their 4 years of college was inspirational. These students are amazing and I feel privileged to be able to call them friends.

I was also lucky enough to interview one of the honorees!

Watch the video below to hear about Celebrating Black History and to get a look at an exclusive interview I had with the Dazzling Ekene Obi-Okoye – Harvard College Class of 2012.

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It feels so incredible to be back! Not only is it great seeing old friends and making new ones, my classes this semester are inspiring new self-exploration in a way that I have never felt before. I came back a new person with my passion for Education & Education Policy reinforced and after so many amazing experiences working with students around the world, I now have the opportunity to study the systems, structures, and dynamics that govern the Educational world from an academic setting in the Harvard classroom.

It’s hard to explain how it feels to be in a classroom studying ‘yourself’ and the models that were meant to help you- All I can say is that I am grateful to be on this side of the analysis for once. I am acquiring the tools necessary for me to make an impact in the field I feel so passionate about and I can’t wait to bring my perspective to a world that is beginning to be introduced to ‘people like me.’ &Feel free to interpret that as you see fit.

I am not only a Harvard Student or a First-Generation College Student or a First-Generation American or a Minority Student or a ‘Low-Income Student’ – I am all of these things and more, infused in a way that gives my perspective and voice a unique resonance that I have been dying to share since the day I knew I was meant to enact change. Of course, I have quite a bit of growing to do and things that I have yet to learn but know that my voice will be heard.

But my voice isn’t the only one worth hearing- we need your voice too. &Only you can provide it. As long as you continue seeking the tools available through higher education, your voice will resonate louder than mine ever could.

College is a place for growth and I’m happy that Harvard has been relentless in the challenges it has set before me because without these challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“The more life pushes you back, the more you can move forward.” If that’s true, then I’m more than ready for whatever this semester has in store for me.

If you want a more vivid look into what my Harvard experience is like, watch my weekly video series – “Wake-Up Wednesdays.” Let’s Live out our First-Generation College Student Dreams Together.

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These past 8 months have transformed me in more ways than I can put into words. 2011 was a life-changing year and it seems as if it only set the momentum for 2012! The new year has already begun to take its effect and I’m happy to report that the personal growth continues because as uncertain as the future may seem, we can always be sure that change is waiting at the cusp of every decision. We must welcome this change, embrace its effects, and use what we learn to foster positivity in our environment.

I have finally realized that no matter what environment I am in, I find myself learning the most from the people working alongside me- specifically, the youth. Working with MLAB this January was truly a blessing. As much as I wanted to successfully fulfill my role as an MLAB Mentor, I am convinced that my mentees ended up teaching me more than I could possibly teach them. These students were incredible.

For example, these students managed to provide guest speakers with questions so challenging and filled with such technical language that there were times where I still had trouble understanding when translated into English. In addition, the only thing more impressive than their current intellectual level was their drive to continuously reach higher. You would see them often studying away on our break time, looking up new English vocabulary, asking for help with pronunciation- MLAB really was an exceptional group. And not only were they incredibly intelligent, they knew how to have fun too! I remember how heated our MarioKart races would get and I can’t believe how many times Baby Peach would come from behind with a red shell to take my place at the top (I want a rematch, Barbara!).

The MLAB family provided unforgettable memories and a renewed determination to keep working as hard as I can and to give back as much as I can along the way to my full potential. These students’ ambition fueled my own and their humility and respect for each other reminded me that no one person’s goals are completely separate from those of others. The connection we formed will stay with me forever and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.

Immediately following MLAB, I had the honor of working alongside Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, in implementing a model to help local students in Guanajuato strive for higher education. This experience and what came thereafter, I believe, changed me the most out of my entire 8-month journey. Perhaps it was the way I was able to utilize my journey’s lessons in Guanajuato and how everything seemed to come full circle for me like never before.

After seeing parts of the world I never thought I’d ever see, I found myself coming back to the country of my family and my ancestors and discovering parallels between each community I had visited as well as the triumphs and struggles that come with them. These parallels became all too real very shortly after arriving.

As much as I want to elaborate now, I want to wait until I can actually show you my experience. I recorded several reflections as they happened and am looking forward to when I can piece them together in a way that provides an accurate look into my experience. Until then, please listen to the words of my friend for he is a very wise and humble man.

Words from Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox

In the early summer of 2011, I watched my Little Brother proudly toss his graduation cap into the sunny San Diego sky. As he walked across that stage, each step he took brought him closer to what would be a brand new life. I’ve never been more proud as a Big Brother.

In the same way my Brother stepped down from that stage as a new person – a high school graduate – less than 24 hours later, I stepped off a plane onto Brazilian soil as a new person myself – a rookie traveler and future globetrotter.

June was the beginning.
To start off my travels, I had the opportunity to explore São Paulo, the Southern Hemisphere’s Largest City, and get introduced to the beautiful Brazilian culture. Brazil is complex in its people and customs; the country offers so much more than sunshine and beaches. I learned that one should always expect more, because once you close your mind off to new possibilities, you risk stagnancy.

July was a chance for connections.
The first transitions and my adaptation to the new cultures of Paraty and Rio de Janeiro were the just the beginning of the adventure. The feel, food, and flavor were all especially distinct and being able to note the differences between cultures helped me appreciate the context so much more.
Some of my most treasured memories of Brazil were found while working with youth in Espaço Criança Esperança,Rio de Janeiro. Noting the parallels between the negative stereotypes, low expectations, and yet stubbornly high hopes of the people of the Favela and the people of my own inner-city community helped me understand my newfound friends and myself a lot better. It reinforced the idea that where a person is from does not determine what they can achieve. The joy they brought me and the experiences we shared will stay with me forever and I can’t wait to create more memories with them when I visit Rio de Janeiro again someday.

August was a milestone.
I was in transition between 3 very distinct countries, continents, and cultures. As I said my ‘goodbyes’ in Brazil, shortly thereafter I received brand new ‘hellos’ in China. Working with the Harvard Summit for Young Leaders in China (HSYLC) was yet another unforgettable experience. The students I had the privilege of working with were able to teach me just as much as I was able to teach them as a Seminar Leader, Teacher, and Dance Instructor. They were truly incredible and each of their talents was more impressive than the last. Finally being able to experience the Chinese culture in its birthplace had been a childhood dream of mine. I had always wanted to explore the cultures of Asia and I am grateful for such a wonderful start to that journey. As I left China, headed for Europe, I began yet another chapter of my life as I set foot in what would be my home for the Fall 2011 semester- Barcelona, Spain.

September was a fresh start.
Settling in to a new community, brand new universities, and starting to teach at University of Barcelona (UB) provided for an intense beginning. I had to, yet again, adapt to a brand new culture and way of life. I discovered just how much the experiences in Brazil and China had changed who I was – I had grown.

October was an awakening.
As life picked up with the start of a new semester, I was transitioning well and so I began the European travels. My first international destination while in Europe was Portugal. I was in for a surprise when I thought I would be able to communicate effortlessly with the locals – Brazil and Portugal were, understandably, worlds apart. I learned that your reality, and everything you think you know well, can and will be challenged in new environments. A truth I had known but not actively recognized.

November was fantasy.
The magic of Rome and Thanksgiving in Paris was almost too much in just one month… almost. Additionally, the welcomed visits from friends in between weekends provided for a great way to blend the past, present and future.
I learned that when all three come together, one’s true aspirations are revealed.

&December was bittersweet.
The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the incredible selection of cheese in Zaandijk, and the Christmas spirit of the Netherlands provided for a great start to the last month of 2011. Then came Finals period, a goodbye to Europe, and finally, my homecoming and the milestone that came with it.

Let’s do a recap of what this adventure has entailed.
-Flying to Brazil for 2 months
-Bouncing back to Cali for a new flight
-Traveling over the Pacific Ocean to China
-Voyaging over Asia to finally arrive in Europe
-Crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the United States to finally return to California

And at the conclusion of this journey, at just 20 years old, I have successfully circumnavigated the globe – I have finished a complete trip around the world.

I’ve gone through so many other worlds to make it to my return flight home that I’m not even sure at what points I crossed which boundaries – and I think that’s a part of the beauty of it all. One thing I’ve learned after all of this is that no matter how far away we are from each other or how different our cultures may be, we are all interconnected and we all have the same dreams of finding something that will make us happy. The importance of working together to achieve these dreams has never been clearer.

And after 6 months of international travel, I step into 2012 as a new person, ready for even more challenges and welcoming even more growth. All of the lessons I have learned have finally come full circle: Let this year be a new beginning- a chance for connections, a chance for new milestones, a chance at a fresh start. Awake into your fantasy for every year’s end is bittersweet.


And in the way I started this journey by traveling to Brazil in 2011, I will begin a new journey by traveling back to Brazil in 2012- in just a few hours, actually. You have to appreciate the symmetry!

This January, during Harvard’s 2012 J-Term, I have the privilege of participating in a special program called Mentorship & Language Acquisition in Brazil [MLAB] where I will be working with Brazil’s young future leaders. Words cannot describe how excited I am to be a part of the MLAB Family! I can’t wait to fill you in on all the details of this brand new adventure.Until then, be safe and keep working hard!

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