Light Beyond Darkness: From College Prep Scholar to Group Leader

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Cesar Rufino leading students at the 2015 National College Admissions Conference at Yale.

It took me a while to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t say this because I never appreciated my parents’ hard work or because I complained about materialistic things I never obtained during my childhood; I have always been happy about my life, but I never understood the context.

I still remember the day I attended QuestBridge’s National College Admissions Conference at Northwestern University. I was wearing new dress shoes, new khakis, and a crisp picnic-like shirt that my mom had purchased with her Tupperware earnings. I was so excited to learn more about colleges and continue pursuing my long-term ambitions.

Two years later, I was flown out to New Haven, Connecticut, to serve as a Group Leader for the National College Admissions Conference at Yale University. Now, I was the person students were reaching out to for advice on schools, financial aid, and their essays.

Yes, I answered every question that my students could think of, but being six months separated from that experience, I realize now that there was some advice that I never shared with them. I want them and potential College Prep Scholar applicants to take this into consideration.

I am the eldest of four, a first-generation student, from the city of Chicago, and I attend Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Yes, I am proud of all of these labels, but there is one aspect of my life that has taught me the most about the world and has more fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today: I come from an underprivileged socioeconomic background. As a senior in high school, this embarrassed me and I know it may embarrass many of you. However, I have learned that my background has led me to where I am today. My father is a residential painter and an immigrant from Mexico; he’s the reason why I am motivated to succeed. He reminds me every day the importance of hard work, and how many amazing things I have to appreciate in my everyday life. I know each and every one of you also has some sort of inspirational source; never let it go and use it to drive you forward.

Shortly after I returned from being a Group Leader at Yale, I came across this article.

After I read it in its entirety, I was stunned. However, after I took a look at each one of those index cards, I cried. Keep in mind: these students are 3rd graders. My youngest brother, David, is also in 3rd grade. I always ask myself if I had similar thoughts at their age. I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, had to learn English through Sesame Street, and spent some time enrolled in an ESL classroom. Stereotypically, people assume that children at this age are dreaming about being astronauts, surgeons, or doctors; I was shocked when their thoughts at the time were full of fear and worry. They could only see pain and darkness in their lives.

However, I realized something else after reading this article. I am fortunate enough to be considered a role model for my siblings; I know QuestBridge has been able to cultivate some of the most inspiring individuals of my generation. Together, we can show these third graders in Colorado, and other youth around the nation that there is more to what they physically see or experience.

We all come from different backgrounds and face various hardships, but one thing never changes: our drive.

Today, I am still confused about my future. However, there is one thing that I have learned throughout the past two years of being a QuestBridge Scholar:

Follow your passion. If at this very moment, you know what you want to do with your life, great. If you don’t know, that’s not a bad thing. Even if your goals change in the next year, know that your battle is inspiring all of those who come will come after you. That notion is something that can’t be altered.

QuestBridge will help you find your team; I found mine within my very own family and I am so thankful for that. Like I said, I may not know what the future holds for me, but that’s okay. All I need to know is that my siblings will do everything in their power to succeed. For the past three years, I believed that my college process was a concept that would only reward my individual self; I was wrong. I have been able to subconsciously support my siblings by fighting towards my goal of a post-secondary education before them. I underestimated this influence, so I want to make sure you don’t.

Over the past two years, I have learned so much, and I know I am not done figuring out what I can do to help those around me. Through your applications and aspiration to create a better future for yourself or your family, you are already doing the same.

Cesar Rufino, Dartmouth ’18