I would like to begin by introducing the two people who gave me my origins, Rosario and Eufracio Reyes, my parents. They have been an inspiration to me my whole life. My parents come from very humble beginnings. They did not speak English when they came to this country, but they learned it. They did not have citizenship, but they obtained it. They did not go to college, but they found Breakthrough and now their children will. My parents have always pushed me to do my best. Although I didn’t always appreciate how they constantly nagged me about my grades, “Haz la tarea, Daniel!” I’m grateful for it now! Thank you, mom and dad, for showing me what it means to never give up. I love you very much.
I was 11 years old when I signed up for Breakthrough. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I remember when I stepped off the bus for my first 6-week summer program. I walked up the steps of Littlefield Fountain at UT with a blazing sun above. The temperature read something like, “TEXAS HEAT.” I walked into an auditorium in Welch Hall and smiled as I heard and saw an entire community of students like me singing a cheer – do you all know Little Sally Walker? It’s a favorite at Breakthrough. I realized then that I had found my community, my support system, and the motivation to reach my goals. From my first day of the summer program in sixth grade, I was hooked. I spent the next three summers at UT getting better at math, science, social studies, and English. Every year I’d return to school with a little “umph” in my step, knowing I was ahead of everyone else.
It wasn’t until high school, though, that I really understood everything Breakthrough could do for me. Breakthrough helped me get into the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy – one of the most rigorous high schools in the country. To be honest, I struggled. But, like every Breakthrough student at LASA, I leaned on two very special women, Andrea Guengerich and Caitlyn Clark, our Breakthrough advisors. They were always around, reminding us about our studies, our summer activities, and most of all our grades. I’ll never forget the dreaded question, “Daniel, do you have a moment?” which I knew meant they wanted to talk about my grades. But today, I am grateful to have had someone to watch out for my school performance, someone to help me when I was struggling, and most of all someone to inspire me to try harder.
By my junior year in high school, I had found my stride and everything was going well. With Breakthrough’s help, I was getting good grades and making plans for college. But then…the 2013 Onion Creek Floods happened. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of my dad’s truck on high ground as we watched the water rise up through our home, nearly 5 feet in total. I realized right then that we had nowhere to live. We scrambled to put a roof over our heads, and find food to eat, and I returned to school the next Monday in a daze. While my friends at school were worried about homework and pop quizzes, all I could think about was how my family could survive. My school and my wonderful Breakthrough advisors somehow showed up with gift cards for food and some clothes to add to the few we were able to grab when we fled the disaster. I remember Andrea and my family meeting at the Breakthrough office and we all agreed that Breakthrough would step up more, if that’s even possible, to help me continue my junior year and start my college application process.
I will be honest with you all. There were times when it all felt like too much, and I wanted to give up. School felt too hard. How could I stay focused on college, when my life and my family were turned upside down? Thank you, Breakthrough, for helping me stay focused and working hard, even when I was crammed with my family all in one room in my aunt’s house. I am proud to tell you now that I didn’t give up, that I graduated LASA and just this August started at my dream college, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.
To tell you the truth, my first semester in college has been the best time in my life. So far, I have pulled off all A’s. I’ve started a club called St. Mary’s College Democrats, an organization that is already 40 strong with great plans to make a difference for our community. I am also surrounded by 6 other amazing Breakthrough students at St. Mary’s, including 3 upperclasswomen who serve as mentors for us freshmen, and I get calls, texts and visits from my Breakthrough college advisor, Daniel Jackson. I am proud to be the first in my family to go to college, and even prouder to know I won’t be the last. My younger brother, Jesus, who is in high school now, is also a Breakthrough student and college-bound.
Just this weekend, another flood hit my family’s home. We were better prepared this time but it is still hard. I am so glad that Breakthrough is there to continue to support my brother and me. These floods aren’t holding us back but are now merely challenges that we can overcome. Not every Breakthrough student endures such acts of nature but, believe me, every single one of us overcomes our own obstacles on our path to college graduation
I can’t wait to graduate from St. Mary’s and head on to law school. Eventually, I want to represent the Lone Star State in Congress. I want to learn everything I can through college and beyond so I can help others in communities, like Onion Creek, across our great state. Thank you for letting me share my story.