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Usbaldo Fraire, Jr. - San Antonio – Texas

Growing up in a single-parent family, Usbaldo describes his upbringing as one of poverty. But these challenges only motivated him to do more. While a student at Robert E. Lee High School, he mentored youth with similar backgrounds, encouraging them to resist joining gangs and to appreciate the value of education. He is the first in his family to attend college, and on top of that, he is helping to finance his own education as a national winner of the Hispanic Heritage Youth Award for Leadership.

Inspiration to Learn - University of Texas at Austin

In my family’s past, no one has ever met the challenge of mathematics. In fact no one in my family has ever challenged anything because of their lack of education. My grandmother was illiterate when it came to complex math. Oppression limited her education to the third grade and simple addition and subtraction. My mother, aunts, uncles, along with my father never graduated or dared to attempt an algebra problem in school. The threat of x and y were too complex and overwhelming.

Over the years, I made up my mind to tackle mathematics. With some motivated teachers, I began to develop a keen interest in the subject. As a child I was always told that math was power, and power was what I wanted. So I took the challenge every year and thought of it as a game of “cracking the code,” but I still had doubts about my abilities. I believed my understanding would end when I reached Algebra I, if I ever made it that far.

One day when I began to act up with other classmates, my social studies teacher Mr. Salinas pulled me out of class as he usually did and inevitably delivered a scolding. This time though I questioned his authority and asked why he never punished my friends, for they were guilty of the same nonsense. My train of thought completely changed when he said, “because I care about you.” He began to explain that he had taught for 30 years at Gus Garcia Middle School and always looked for those students who had the potential to break our community’s chain of failure. One day these students would come back to the barrio and prove that it was possible to become anything they wanted if they put the time and effort into their futures. He told me as though he strongly believed that I would be one of the students to accomplish this feat. He compared my math scores and overall grades to other students to show me that I was one of the top students of the school. Mr. Salinas made me believe until this day that I could break the chain of failure. His visions and expectations of me impacted the rest of my life; for the fi rst time I had someone who believed in me passionately. He would bet his life on me, just as my mother would. His visions of me pointed my life in a positive direction.

Along with the support of my mother and grandmother, I was determined to make something of myself with mathematics. Mr. Salinas and my family made me set goals to challenge myself to the maximum and thus be able later to use my math skills for a successful job. During my senior year, I realized I wanted to expand my skills and learn more in order to study engineering. The rigorous courses of the University of Texas College of Engineering can help me accomplish my goals and in return I want to contribute to my society, building public schools, museums and libraries.

Why This Essay Succeeded

In this essay Usbaldo shares just one facet of a person who made an impact in his life. While he certainly had many interactions with his social studies teacher, the one that made a lasting impression was when Mr. Salinas explained why he singled out Usbaldo for discipline. The rest of the essay drives home the point that Usbaldo internalized from that single moment. Other students in this situation might have simply shrugged off their teacher’s comment and continued with their behavior, but Usbaldo clearly made a transformation and the rest of his essay helps to substantiate this change.

Usbaldo’s essay also does an excellent job of giving us an insight into his background. Showing us how little educational opportunities his family had and how troubled his community is helps us to put into context his achievements. This essay would be far less successful if Usbaldo came from a privileged family and attended an elite private school. Whatever your background—whether underprivileged or not—it’s important to convey why your achievement is special. If you’ve overcome a challenge, say so.

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