How Noemi Valdez Went From Only Hoping to Sell Raspados to Becoming a Harvard Student

I didn’t know that I wanted to go to college. I didn’t even know that it existed or what its value was. I remember when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I wanted to sell raspados.” Yes, you read that right, sell shaved ice.

I’m from the very poor city of Mexicali in Mexico. I was never exposed to revolutionary jobs or careers. I never wanted to be an astronaut, a lawyer, or an engineer. Never anything so ambitious. But that all changed when my family and I immigrated to the United States.

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Credit: Noemi Valdez

Nine years after the journey across the border, I will call Harvard my new home where I will begin working toward degrees in applied mathematics and archeology. I will take a suitcase packed with fears, nostalgia, and hope — a replica of what my parents and I packed when we immigrated to the United States — and attend this Ivy League School.

I cannot deny the fact that there is a tremendous amount of pressure on me to succeed. As ironic as it sounds, the same amount of pressure is on me to fail. I know that as an immigrant, minority, first-generation student, and female attending Harvard, I am breaking norms, standards, and defined regimes that have been imbedded in my culture for decades.

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Credit: Noemi Valdez

There are many lessons that I have learned. One of the ones with the most impact has been the fear of failure. This feeling digs deep down into your skin and arises only to inhibit greatness from being able to shine through. The fear of receiving a rejection letter was the one that almost stopped me from applying to the university I will now be attending. If I had not pressed “submit” on my application that day, I would not have the opportunity to reach thousands of aspiring students who share my same story. I have learned that living with failure is easier than living with regret.

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Credit: Noemi Valdez

I know that many people want more out of life…I am one of them. I want to succeed not because I have hundreds of eyes on me but because I have hundreds of hearts with me — those of my sister, my neighbors, cousins, and those in my community.

Nine years ago, I left a trail of tears. Tears that followed me all the way to the United States. These were tears of extreme sadness at having to leave my family and my life. Now that I think about it, those tears have become tears of joy. Tears of gratitude towards my parents for allowing me to have what had been ripped away from them, a college education.

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