By Sixto Arevalo
With every new decision I make, there’s always a challenge that follows. It’s a never-ending trial and error to reach my goals and aspirations. I realize that I must learn to adapt in order to make progress.
In December 2019 I make the decision to take my college career seriously. My mindset is that 2020 is going to be the year that marks the difference in my life; and it does, but not in the ways I expected. I want to focus on my college education. Up to this point in 2019, I have graduated high school, I've been taking some college courses on and off, but I was making little progress. I try everything: being a full-time student, that’s stressful. Night classes, not terrible but I get home late. But the worst, online classes. I am a bad procrastinator as it is; online classes give me too much room to slack off and I allow the assignments to accumulate. It never ends well for me. At this point, I start debating whether college is even worth it. After all, it’s ridiculously expensive, and I must pay out of pocket. Due to my DACA status, I don’t qualify for federal financial aid. Getting a private loan, for me, isn’t an option. Somehow, I must try to make it work.
It's spring semester 2020: I work full-time as a bank teller, I drive for Uber part-time, and I’m taking 2 classes at Mass Bay Community College. My classes are going well, and I am specifically enjoying US History, an elective I’m taking just to get out of the way, but surprisingly, it’s my favorite class. The professor makes class entertaining and insightful, and for the first time in a while I get a momentum going. I think, this is it, this is my opportunity to finally get ahead. Nothing can go wrong.
It’s March 2020 and my US History professor makes an announcement: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes will transition to a virtual environment. For the rest of the semester all classes will be hosted online.” Oh no, my nightmare begins. I hate online classes to the point where I’m considering dropping the courses. But I already paid for these classes. I can’t throw that money away; I must stick with it. My favorite in-person class becomes my worst online class. The professor has never taught online, so the class becomes tedious and dull. I start allowing the homework assignments to pile on and my anxiety begins to grow. Then, Mass Bay gives me the perfect excuse to quit. They change the grading criteria to pass everyone as long as they finish the course and allow students to withdraw without it affecting their transcript. I don’t bat an eye; I immediately drop the courses. It hurts to throw my money away but my anxiety about the class is so bad I don’t care. I want an out.
The pandemic becomes a huge challenge for me. Work becomes miserable, everyone is on their toes, and people are afraid and stressed. As a frontline worker, putting your health at risk is nerve-racking. My family is at risk, I never know when I will come home sick and pass it along to them. All this constant tension is draining. I get home everyday with 1% battery and my way to recharge is to sleep an unhealthy amount. I only get up to eat and go to work, I stop answering texts and phone calls from my friends, and I isolate myself. My guilty conscience of dropping school starts to weigh on me. My life becomes a prison to my bottled-up emotions that leads me to be depressed and I have no way out. What was supposed to be two weeks of COVID restrictions becomes an eternity with no sight of things going back to normal.
It’s Christmas 2020 and my family decides to have my grandma travel from El Salvador. Where she lives, the situation is very tough. She lives by herself, and we think that she would be better here with us. She can wait out the pandemic with us and then travel back home once everything settles down. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, on the morning of the 23rd I wake up with a headache, sore throat, fever, and chills; I am sick with COVID. Before long, my whole family is sick as well, including my grandma. The days go by and it only gets worse. The worst day is New Year’s Eve. I am supposed to be celebrating, but I’m lying in bed and I am weak. I have no strength to keep going through this. I just want it to end.
Thankfully, my family and I get better, including my grandma. And I decide it’s time to get back on track.
One night, while I’m driving for Uber, I pick up a gentleman in downtown Boston. We strike up a conversation. He works at State Street, a very prestigious finance company, and he volunteers with a program mentoring students to empower them to earn internships and employment. I think, “I want something like that. I need something like that.” As he gets out he says, “The program is called Year Up. Search it up, you’d be a great fit.”
I decide to apply to the program. The entire course is online. I am a bit reluctant, but I decide I need to adapt to the new norm. Additionally, I must leave my current job and focus completely on the program. With careful thinking and conversations with my parents, I decide to go forward with it. I apply and I’m accepted.
During a Zoom pre-orientation meeting, the speaker starts off by saying, “I know it’s difficult that we are not in person, but we expect the same level of engagement as if we were.” This catches my attention, it’s different. As he continues to speak, I become more and more interested, and I start to get pumped up and I realize that despite the challenges of being online. I am making the right choice.
More than just choosing the right path to start my career, I am also choosing to have the right attitude. Yes, life is a constant trial and error. But I choose to be adaptable.