2018 Student Essay Winner Sofia Velasquez

Sofia Velasquez photo

2018 SEC Winner
Sofia Velasquez

2016 SEC Winner Paloma Marinelarena

Elevating My Dreams One Step at a Time

I remember it like it was yesterday, walking onto the Portland Community College campus, and my heart racing 100 mph. I have tried to fight memories that have haunted me for years: My family and I spending nights on the streets of Los Angeles, my father’s drug and alcohol abuse, and the haunting “you will never make it” speech he would forever engrave in my head. Despite it all, there I was walking down the hallways from one class to another thinking, “What am I doing here?” Being Muslim and a woman of color, I felt out of place on a campus filled with people I couldn’t relate to. I constantly felt like I didn’t belong and perhaps that my safest bet was to give up.

One day, as I was walking through campus, I noticed a flyer that said, “Study Abroad in Peru.” I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel. However, everything changed the day I met Teela Foxworth, who taught the faculty led program in Peru. Being a woman of color herself, she took me under her arms and gave me the confidence I needed to sign up for the program and study abroad. She went above and beyond to ensure that I would make it to Peru. She pushed me to apply to prestigious scholarships to study abroad and believed in me to the fullest extent. Thanks to Ms. Foxworth, I received a full-ride scholarship to study abroad in Peru this past summer.

Every now and then, I reflect on the moments and memories that were made in Peru with Ms. Foxworth by my side. I can feel the exact temperature of the wind blowing by my face, the rhythm of Peruvian music, and the smell of Peruvian cuisine. Perhaps the most memorable moment was when I finally made it to Machu Picchu. At an elevation of 7,972 feet overlooking one of the seven wonders of the world, Ms. Foxworth looked at me with tears coming out of her eyes and said, “You’ve made it, from here on out there is nothing you can’t accomplish.”

Ms. Foxworth continues to play a huge role in my life and overall success in college. It is to her, that I owe my continuous success as I continue to take risks, step into leadership positions on campus, and dream bigger. I no longer fight memories, I embrace them and accept the fact that they made me stronger.