My name is Grecia Lopez. I am a junior at Texas Tech University. That may not be a popular choice with all you Longhorn fans out there, but don’t worry, I’m doing great as a Red Raider. It is my honor to share my story today.

It was during my sixth grade year that two Breakthrough staff members, Ana and Brian, came to my school during Social Studies class. They explained how Breakthrough would help me for 12 years until I graduated from college. That got my attention. My 6th grade self was different than the person in front of you today. I was very…very…very…shy. I did not talk at all, and when I did, you had to lean towards me with a hand over an ear. I was also the first in my family to make it through high school. My mom, no offense to other moms here, is the best mom in the world. She loves me and always supported my dreams. And I did dream, really beautiful, passionate dreams. I dreamed of college, of wearing the robes and the mortar board. I dreamed of being a nurse or a doctor. Most of all, I dreamed of a better life for my family. But, my dreams were always deep inside here or in my talks with my mom at night. I had no idea how I would make my dreams come true. No one in my life did. I felt like Cinderella, always dreaming of the castle up the hill but never able to get there. So, Ana and Brian and this thing called Breakthrough were like a lightning bolt to my heart.  They lit a fire inside me. I turned my application in the very next day.

Fast forward to that summer when I found myself stepping on the bus at 6:30 in the morning for my first day as a Breakthrough student at the middle school summer program. Once I arrived at a University of Texas auditorium, I found hundreds of students and teachers doing cheers and singing songs. And, everyone was asked to greet the entire community loudly and proudly each morning. You know what my first reaction was? Run. Run away! But that fire inside my heart tugged at me. Over the course of my first summer, I learned how to join in with equal enthusiasm. I was one of hundreds of other first-generation college goers, all of us tending our fire for what we wanted to be. And…we learned. Every day when others in my neighborhood slept in and played video games, I would leave those loud morning assemblies for math, science, social studies, and English class. I spent every summer in middle school and high school learning and growing with my friends and teachers.

And, Breakthrough didn’t stop at the end of the summer break. My advisor Zakiyyah made sure I kept on top of all my school work. As I got older, I loved Breakthrough’s college visits, SAT prep classes, and college application workshops.  I’ll never forget the feeling when Breakthrough threw a special party just for me and my fellow Breakthrough high school graduates in 2015. I was going to college! I made it to the castle on the hill!

But then, reality set in. I was six hours away in Lubbock. I didn’t know anyone and had to figure out how to live on my own and manage the huge work load. By the end of the first semester, I failed two classes. I felt like I was letting myself and my mom down. How could I fail when she had been working so hard for this goal my whole life? I thought maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe I should just let that flame die out. My dreams were foolish, for little girls. My Breakthrough college advisor, Tiburcio, came all the way to Lubbock to help me. We talked for hours. He reminded me that I am the very first in my family to step foot on a college campus. Of course it would be hard, he said. He reminded me that I am hard-working, smart, and determined. That flame started to flicker again. After Tiburcio helped me think through my next steps and connected me to a support group at Texas Tech for first first-generation students, that flame grew back strong than ever.

I’m proud to say to you all that I’ve earned nothing but As and Bs since in one of the best nursing programs in the state.  I even returned the last two summers to serve as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow to younger students at Breakthrough. It is now my turn to pass the torch, to help keep the dreams of the next generation alive. Thank you to everyone tonight for letting me share my story of becoming a first-generation college graduate.  To everyone out there with dreams, here’s what I have to say: keep that fire burning. And to Breakthrough, my own, personal fire starter, thank you from the bottom of my heart.