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Our Family Dream: My Path to Pharmacy School as a First-Generation College Student. – Clarisa C.

I am the eldest daughter of two immigrant parents who left their country for a better life. As the oldest daughter, I was assigned many roles (many of which I was not prepared for)- translator, advisor, babysitter, secretary, and many more. I took on these roles as best as I could because I would see my parents wake up before the sun every day without complaining. I saw my parents struggle, and I knew that I had to do much more. Growing up, my mom always made sure to remind me how important an education was. She was forced to drop out of school at 13 to help her family even though she didn’t want to. This lit a fire in me, and I knew that I could not fail from a very young age.

In middle school, I worked hard to get good grades and keep up with my classmates who were in the honors courses. I couldn’t take honors classes in middle school because my state scores were not that great, but I still did my best in every course that I had. Then along came high school. I finally had the chance to pick my classes, so I signed up for every honors course and AP class I could. It was a challenge, but I was willing to work for it. Later on, during my junior year, I discovered that I could be taking more college-level classes for free and receive both high school and college credit- so I did.

By the time I was a senior, I had finished my associate in arts and would be graduating at the top of my class. I felt much pride and happiness despite the long hours of studying, but I wasn't eligible for many scholarships because of my average ACT/SAT scores. Because of our financial situation, my parents couldn’t afford college. I remember sitting down at the award ceremony holding back tears because I knew this was it. Later that night my dad sat me down and told me - you study, and study very hard. Don't worry about money; we will make it happen. And they did. My dad worked overtime Monday through Sunday to help pay for my tuition, and thanks to him, I was able to finish my bachelor’s degree.

Despite having such a huge help from my dad - the undergraduate experience was not easy. I was not prepared for the level of work that was needed to complete a degree in chemistry. I struggled a lot during undergrad because I didn't know who to go to. I didn't want to tell my parents because they were counting on me. I felt so alone, and at times I felt like a failure because I didn’t know. No one in my family had gone to college - I had to figure everything out by myself, and sometimes I had to learn things the hard way. There were so many nights that I would spend crying in the library because the frustration of just not understanding and feeling like I was falling behind was so overwhelming. The thought of disappointing my family added to my increasing anxiety. I was lost for a while, but I found the light that led me to where I am today.

Over time, I started to learn different methods of studying and techniques that worked for me. I began to go to tutoring and stay after class to meet with my professors to ask questions. I also made long-lasting friendships and found a support system away from home for the first time. I started working as a tutor myself, and in three years, I walked that stage in front of my family, who drove hours to celebrate their sacrifices. I will never forget their gleaming smiles full of pride and happiness.

After graduating college, my parents asked me for help to get my brother and sister through college. How could I say no after everything they did for me? I began working as a high school chemistry teacher and was able to help my siblings. The idea of being a teacher never crossed my mind. My whole life, I wanted to go into healthcare. I wanted to get my doctorate and give back to my community any way I could, but life had other plans. I taught for about four years, and in those four years, I grew so much as a person, and I discovered the thing I was most passionate about, which was medicine.

I wanted to understand exactly what every medication was for and the importance of receiving quality care. Growing up in an immigrant house, my family never went to a doctor and would deal with whatever pain they had. They didn’t speak English well, which meant they couldn’t communicate their concerns and feelings. This discouraged them from getting checkups. I realized that there were so many others just like my parents, and I wanted to do something about it. This led me to researching pharmacy school. A pharmacist is known to be the most accessible healthcare provider. They do many things concerning taking care of your health that many people are not aware of. I wanted to be part of building this bridge between quality healthcare and our Latino/a community.

While teaching, I studied every day after work for my PCAT, the Pharmacy School admissions test. I went back to school and paid out of pocket to finish the pre-requisites I was missing. After so many years of dreaming, the day finally came. I was in class checking my email when I noticed an email from my dream school. I had to hold in my happiness as I read “Congratulations!” but I cried so many tears of joy during lunchtime. I called my mom right after, and we both cried together. I could not believe what I was reading. The thing I wanted most in the world, the something I worked so hard for many years, was finally happening for me. That is a feeling that to this day will never compare to anything else. I was going to be a pharmacist, and not only that, but I would be attending one of the best programs in the country.

Today I am a second-year Doctor of Pharmacy Student, and I am so proud to say that I am living my dream every day. I struggled a lot, but I never gave up. There was always something in me that kept me trying over and over again. During moments when things got hard, and I wanted to give up, the thought of "what if" came to mind. “What if I can do it?” popped in. On my desk, I have a quote that will forever be in my heart and serves as a reminder that I am capable and can do anything I set my mind to – “If there is a will, there is a way,” and as long as I do my best, I know I will find the way.

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