During my adolescence, my dad was never around; my mom was really dedicated to us, working full time at a school cafeteria to provide for our family. Consequently, entering middle school, my siblings and I had a lot of autonomy. My brother began having his older friends over to our house and they introduced us to drugs, ditching and fighting, which influenced our behavior in school.
I was on probation for having been involved in a fight and had regular court dates. Entering high school, my identical twin and I were perceived as trouble. At one point, I was accused of something I did not do and was suspended. I entered the juvenile justice system at age 13.
After juvenile detention, I felt the world was unjust. I saw authority figures as corrupt and stopped caring about detention as a consequence. I felt tagged a criminal. People looked at you expecting you to fail. I felt it would be easier to live my life as a self-fulfilling prophecy than become someone in a place where no one becomes anyone, where most people make their living from minimum wage jobs meant to be a transition into the workforce. After a few episodes of recidivism, I entered a group home at age 16.
I was pregnant with my beautiful daughter Aurora when I began working at El Pollo Loco. I knew I could not support my baby and myself on a minimum wage job. Despite having a newborn, at 18, I entered college.
I attended East Los Angeles College full time and worked part time. I was in the honors program and I had a high GPA, but never considered transferring to a private university. Then a close friend suggested it, so I applied. Knowing that I had to raise funds if I was going to make this happen, I began applying for scholarships. I was excited when I was accepted to USC, but that brought a whole new set of hurdles.
Transferring to USC, I scrambled trying to find transitional housing, where my daughter and I could live for at least 18 months. I was also looking for a stable day care center and speaking with Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) supervisors, who no longer wanted to support me at USC because GAIN did not collaborate with private universities. I was finally accepted into a transitional housing program, and GAIN agreed to refer me to a subsidy agency for child care. With some hurdles surmounted, I arrived at USC and faced more challenges.
With no CalWORKS offices on campus, I ran around student services looking for a department or someone who could help me with the paperwork required to receive support services from GAIN. Worried about losing my benefits and still without funds to purchase books, I was invited to a Trojan Guardian Scholars (TGS) program meeting. They asked us, “How can we help you?” Within a week, they created forms recognized by GAIN, and I was able to proceed as a student.
TGS has supported me in everything. I would never have considered attempting to study abroad until Dr. George Sanchez told me it was possible. He connected me with the people to whom I should apply for resources and helped me find the right opportunity. This past Summer, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates through a Problems Without Passports course. It will count toward my major and help me in my quest to become an academic.
I’m telling my story to raise awareness about someone who may not have had enough guidance or support growing up and made mistakes because of it, so that I can help other struggling youths see that change is possible. Trying to come back from mistakes, trying to be someone you have always wanted to be, is very hard and it is programs like TGS and the larger support of the USC community that have helped me make that happen.
Majoring in psychology and sociology, Lucero Noyola is in the Department of Psychology honors program. She is a research assistant for the Values, Ideology and Morality Lab and a mentee in the First-Generation College Student Mentor Program.