OneGoal alumna and graduate from Houston Baptist University Mirla Estrada spoke at Houston’s inaugural Graduation Gala in 2019, the same year that OneGoal-Houston celebrated its first graduating class from college. In her speech, Mirla shares the obstacles she faced, the support she received and the future she now envisions having reached college graduation. Speech has been edited for length.
I come from a family of eight. Growing up we had to work really hard to make ends meet. We were what many people would consider “poor.” Not poor in faith, and definitely not poor in how we love and take care of our family, but somewhat poor in finances. I knew I wanted something different. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get it, but I knew I would. I worked to be accepted into South Early College High School and succeeded.
As I reached sophomore year in high school, I was behind in thinking about college. I knew I wanted to attend Columbia University in New York, but I didn’t know how to get there, until one of my teachers introduced me to OneGoal. She said it was a college success program and initially I wasn’t interested. But I figured I would show up just to see if they could help me get into the college of my dreams.
For the next two years I attended the OneGoal class and I learned so much about myself and the process of applying to and enrolling in college. I learned important things about financial aid, how to write a college essay, information about various on-campus clubs and sororities, and most importantly I learned about scholarships. OneGoal taught me how to actually apply to this college I’d been dreaming of attending, and guess what?
I GOT ACCEPTED TO COLUMBIA AND I GOT A FULL RIDE!!
I was so ready to move to New York. But then, something devastating happened that would change my life and alter my dreams. My dad got really sick, and I was left with the hardest choice ever: to go to New York or to stay in Houston.
Caring for family means the world to me. So I couldn’t leave. I chose to stay.
Fortunately, OneGoal made me apply to seven colleges so I had seven acceptance letters to my name. I called the admissions counselor at my second-choice school, Houston Baptist University, and I explained my plight and not only did they accept me, they offered me a full ride as well! This was amazing, but I was still heartbroken about having to give up my dream school. With resentment and maybe even a little regret, I entered my freshman year of school.
During this time, my OneGoal teacher, Jamie Lopez, was the person who really showed up for me. She continued to be there for me as I made this transition. I made a great group of friends in the Spiritual Life organization on campus and they became my support system. Throughout the year, I pulled out my OneGoal College Guide Book and used the templates provided when I needed to quickly email professors. It really helped me to advocate for myself and probably saved a couple of my grades! Well, actually, it helped ME to save my grade.
With time I realized my purpose for being at Houston Baptist. The identity work we did in OneGoal made so much more sense and I finally really understood that it’s more than just showing up – it’s the reason WHY and the choice in HOW I show up.
Every day, I show up as:
- A young woman whose parents are immigrants and whose mother did not finish middle school and whose father did not finish college, yet whose determination led her to graduate as valedictorian of her school.
- A first-generation college GRADUATE with a degree in chemistry and a minor in theology from Houston Baptist University.
- A person who is determined and believes in family and continued to take care of her parents when their businesses went bankrupt two years ago.
- A Latino woman who is radically passionate about helping other Latinos see what is possible for their lives.
- A graduate student at the University of Houston who is on her way to receiving her Ph.D in neuroscience and,
- An alumna and advocate for OneGoal!
These are just a few of the ways I show up now. And guess what?
I will continue to show up every single day. I see myself impacting the world through medical research, and my new dream is to find cures for diseases and to help people who are in need.
My hope today is that you continue to show up every day, too. There are so many other young people like me who have dreams and goals and hit roadblocks they couldn’t have prepared for. They need this program and your support is the only thing that makes it possible for them to have it.
I am Mirla Estrada. Thank you for allowing me to show up here, today.