Striving for the Stars

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to get my PhD. My parents never went to college, so I didn’t have an easy life growing up. I lived in a poor neighborhood in Long Beach, CA where gangs were a real threat. My best friend growing up turned into a major gang member. Just last summer, some guy was shot in the neck right across the street from my house.

I guess part of the reason for me wanting a PhD is because I thought that that was my ticket out of the ghetto. That I could get out and never, ever have to go back. I mean, I was a white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes growing up with potential murderers. No one thought I would make something of myself. Hell, everyone thought I would get pregnant by the time I was 16. Never mind the fact that I never acted in a way that predicted such outcomes for my future.

I was always the quiet one with my nose in a book. I loved the library. I loved school. I was even in the chess club in elementary school. Yet somehow, I was always the bad influence that would bring the other kids down.

Again, it wasn’t like I was staying out all hours of the night or roaming around the neighborhood looking for trouble. My parents were young parents, sure. I was the first kid and they were only 22 years old. But did that mean I was automatically doomed to a future of crime and sex? Just because they were too young to have their ‘ducks in a row’ and couldn’t afford a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood? I didn’t think so.

Although my parents were young, they did a pretty good job raising me, even though I didn’t think so at the time. I had a curfew, which was that I had to come on once the street lights on the block came on. I had to do chores like do the dishes, take out the trash, and feed the dog. I couldn’t go past the alley on the other side of my neighbors house or go past the blue apartments right next to mine. There were certain kids I couldn’t hang out with, words I couldn’t say without getting slapped or a shoe thrown at my head (true story). Homework needed to be done and checked every night. Nightly talks with my parents were a must.

I had structure. Something a lot of kids I grew up with didn’t have.

My best friend growing up was this kid named X (not really, for this purpose it is). He was half white, which is what made me feel a connection to him, I think. I wasn’t alone. Anyways, X came from a family of gangsters and drug dealers. He always told me that that wasn’t the path he wanted to go down. He was even mocked for it. Instead taking after the rest of them, X was a skater type. We’d ride around, hanging out, talking about getting away from the streets of LA, and actually doing something with our lives that wouldn’t lead to us getting killed. I’m not saying X was a good kid. He didn’t do well with authority, or school, and he got angry really really easily. But he wanted to be different.

He didn’t get that chance. By the time I was a junior in high school, X had already gotten hauled off to jail for armed robbery. The summer I came back after my freshman year away from college, he had already killed someone. Now, he has a baby, a baby momma, and he practically runs his family gang. He’s only 19.

So yes. This is all a reason for me wanting a PhD. To show everyone there that I got out. That I actually did something with my life instead of wasting it.

But mainly, it’s because I want to get my family out of there too. My parents and two little sisters still live in that same neighborhood, in that same house. I was to show my sisters that they have something to look forward too. That they don’t have to get stuck on what that place does to people. I want to give them someone that they can look up to that won’t lead them to getting shot.

I also want to show my parents that they did right by me. That even though it was hard and somethings I was an absolute pain in the ass, they didn’t do anything wrong and that I made it. Because of them, I made it.

It’s that time of year, and that time in my life and my undergraduate career where I am starting to look at graduate schools and PhD programs. I have a ton of dreams that I never thought would be possible, but inch by inch, they are getting closer and closer to being obtainable.

So I thank that neighborhood in Long Beach, California. I thank it for making me want to reach for the stars. I thank it for showing me just who I didn’t want to be. I thank it for being hard, and tough, and oh so tempting. Because without it, I don’t know who or where I would be.