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Never give up: Adriana Villegas breaks barriers to achieve dreams

Commencement 2015

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College of Public Health and Human Sciences student Adriana Villegas will graduate in June with a degree in Public Health.

“I was 11 years old when I had to migrate to the United States from Mexico with my mom and younger brother. My father, as a United States resident, worked in Oregon and visited us in Mexico. After years of hard work he reached his ‘American Dream’ as an entrepreneur of his own company.

I had noticed we had a broken family so I encouraged my father to bring us over to the United States to be together. He did not hesitate after reading my broken words in a letter. He filed residency for the three of us, and while it was in process we moved into the United States without legal permission hoping that by the time it processed we would be granted legal status.

In 2004, I arrived to Oregon despite of acculturating and learning English, and in time I learned that having walked into the United States, even while my dad had filed residency, meant a denied case and would mean future restrictions, such as acquiring a driver’s license, working legally and attending a university.

“I realized my passions were deeply rooted in cultural awareness and advocacy on the dimensions of wellness.”

For me, it felt like there was no point in integrating in a social life or attaining good grades. There was always the label of ‘undocumented’ in the back of my mind. My coping stress became destructive behaviors that lead me away from focusing in school and even from the family I had desired so much.

I graduated high school out of compromise with myself to get a diploma for the records in our close and extended family who had only attended middle school. Not once did it cross my mind to attend university myself; I believed it was impossible because of the barriers outside my control for being undocumented.

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After graduation, Adriana will travel to Cordoba, Argentina through OSU’s IE3 Internships Abroad program.

But the force and power of supportive social groups, institutions, family and friends opened a door at a time for me.

College started from the moment South Albany High School offered for me to enroll at no cost to Linn Benton Community College (LBCC) as part of a high school program. That motivated me to be a purposeful student. Upon high school graduation, two scholarships for my GPA and community service came my way and allowed me to keep going to LBCC part time my freshman year.

Just when I thought scholarship money ran out for my freshman year, LBCC soccer coach Art Mota, whom I trusted with my story, led me to an opportunity with the Student Life and Leadership Council of LBCC. This opportunity paid my sophomore-year tuition.

Sophomore year was bittersweet and special because my heart desired to keep advancing with my studies to a university as a junior, but without legal status there was no way.

In spite of the weighing forces, I was grateful that in two years of a miraculous college experience I had learned my capacity of doing small things with meaningful impact for others through activism at LBCC. I realized my passions were deeply rooted in cultural awareness and advocacy on the dimensions of wellness — financial, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, environmental and physical. I wanted to use them all in one career in which I could serve unrepresented and marginalized members of our society undergoing inequities.

By God’s grace something wonderful happened Spring 2012 before the end of my sophomore year. President Barack Obama announced an executive policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — also known as DACA — in which students who had entered the United States illegally as minors were protected and granted conditional stay in the country to work and study legally.

Months within DACA’s policy, universities and colleges including mine, LBCC, lobbied at the Salem Capital for a movement called ‘Tuition Equity.’ Successfully, it all happened that former Governor Kitzhaber joined in to support DACA students and signed the Tuition Equity policy allowing DACA students to attend Oregon public universities as state of Oregon residents.

Once again, an opportunity came at the right moment and I knew not to turn back but to take it and make the the most of it.

“My advice as a future alumna of Oregon State University is to find your passion, reach out during adversities and live life to the fullest without fears. Make your Beaver legacy.”

I immediately prepared and transferred to Oregon State University to major in Public Health and minor in Psychology. For me, taking upper classes at OSU was challenging as a second-language learner, but with the support of professors, I received the attention I needed in times of struggle. I learned to strengthen my weaknesses and to be humble about feedback. Late nights of homework were just as crazy as for most college students, but I knew I had a story to finish, and that fed my intrinsic motivation. Along the way, my parents always supported me financially and emotionally through my needs.

At OSU, I had imagined being just another student in a crowded classroom, but I soon found myself involved in great events, clubs, organizations and social groups that made me feel welcomed and unique for my friendship, passion and experience. I have made some long lasting friendships with students and staff.

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As my degree completion comes to a bittersweet end, I decided to complete my internship traveling through OSU’s IE3 Internships Abroad. This summer, I will be doing clinical rotations of primary care and social medicine in hospitals serving low-income and uninsured families of Cordoba, Argentina in South America. My heart will be happy to carry a story of many walks down to Argentina, where I will learn and serve for something that I know has cost me sweat and tears to reach.

My hope for these next few years is to make it to graduate school to become a counselor to work with families, youth and individuals seeking therapy.

I’d say to others, that however it is that you define yourself, there are safe places at OSU to open up and share your life and do something about particular issues together. At OSU, we move together in the ups and downs without leaving anybody behind. OSU is a community of thousands of students in which each has a place to grow and blossom. From cultural centers to sporting events, to counseling and food security, OSU is equipped to serve you as a traditional or non-traditional student.

My advice as a future alumna of Oregon State University is to find your passion, reach out during adversities and live life to the fullest without fears. Make your Beaver legacy.”


Editor’s note: Adriana benefitted from DACA, not the DREAM Act. DACA is an executive order that was signed by President Obama in June 2012. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is a legislative proposal for a multi-phase process to grant conditional residency and potential permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications. This bill was introduced in 2001 but has since failed to pass.