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Finding My Voice

By Meital Caplan
July 14, 2016

Cesar Bustos is a OneGoal Fellow.

I always figured I didn’t have much of a future in higher education. Following my father’s death when I was three years old, my family immigrated to the United States from Mexico, uncertain and unaware of the obstacles that we would face. Being an outsider, I faced dismaying criticism, psychological scars of rejection, and limited opportunities, which made me look down on who I was. So when I first started high school, I was thoughtless and negligent of where I was going with my life. I worked in a restaurant where I experienced daily verbal abuse and I was paid far below minimum wage. When I reached my breaking point, I remembered what my mom said were my father’s final words: “I want him to be a well-respected man.” I realized then that I wanted to live up to that hope, but not by demanding respect. Rather, I wanted to earn my family’s—and my community’s—respect by surpassing the challenges in front of me. To triumph over obstacles, I had to be resilient, ambitious, responsible, and disciplined. These are the same key leadership skills I have developed throughout my OneGoal career.


When I first learned about OneGoal, I understood that it would provide me with the opportunity to earn a college degree, but I never knew that it would give me the chance to value myself. At times when I felt like I really needed my father to help face the disempowered feelings I held, OneGoal taught me to be unapologetic of my circumstances and instead focus on breaking those barriers. OneGoal enabled me to recognize how necessary it was to not only enroll in college, but also graduate from college and show that my potential can be valued by an institution.

However, the true triumph does not come from obtaining a degree, but rather from showcasing how an underrepresented student can be challenged to rise above expectations. During my senior year of high school, I was invited to speak at an event as a OneGoal ambassador and share critical moments in my life such as taking the initiative to enroll in AP classes, having unnecessary academic courses as my electives, and developing a passion for helping others. It was here that a junior OneGoal student named Eliseo told me how much he admired my story and how it convinced him to take on a more challenging curriculum. In seeing how sharing my story motivated Eliseo, I realized that resilience can be contagious. This moment inspired me to be more vocal so that I can help others who may be in similar situations take a step forward.

OneGoal has enabled me to envision myself as a leader who can bring about dynamic, positive changes to a community. I first realized that potential when I attended first lady Michelle Obama’s “Beating The Odds” Summit in July 2015. This event connected me to scholars who had overcome similar roadblocks to mine. Each and every powerful individual participating created an essential atmosphere of hope for the future. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama presented the notion that striving for a higher education is not just about oneself, but about helping others who don’t have the same possible resources as us scholars do. Then and there, I realized I had made the greatest choice in my life by attending North Park University.


Ultimately, I firmly believe every struggle and triumph shapes my desire to be successful in higher education. Most importantly, they push me to take the initiative to help others see the value of higher education. Post-secondary education provides students with critical skills that shape every aspect of life: time management, rational thinking, and understanding your own cultural value. I’m excited to become a sophisticated, educated, and well-respected man throughout the next three years at North Park University. I am now working toward a double major in education and sociology, with a minor in business. I hope to become a public speaker and am already becoming someone who is here to make positive changes. I know for a fact my dad would love to meet this man.