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Agnes Soelaiman

Agnes, 19, from New York, born in Indonesia

When I was young, I didn’t think I had a mom or a dad – just grandparents. I had no memories of my parents, just knowledge of two voices – one male, one female – that called me each night from far away. I hated them for leaving me in Indonesia. I was too young to know better and to understand the weight of their decision. They left for the States to earn more money that they sent back to care for me and my grandparents. As I got older, I realized how hard they have had to work just to get me a good education. I am forever grateful to them for all that they have sacrificed to make my life easier. It wasn’t until I was six years old, five years after they left, that we were reunited in America. My expectation was that we were immediately going to have a good life — we were going to live in a big house, I was going to have lots of toys, and we would have so many friends. But it was the total opposite. I was only six years old then so I did not know any better, nor did I realize the little sacrifices they made to even get me here in the first place. I have always viewed America as my home. Growing up here, I saw many things that were unexpected and had experiences that I would never have had living in Indonesia. But my adjustment was not easy. I was constantly picked on during my first year of school because I did not know how to speak English. After six months of struggling to figure it out, I was finally able to carry full conversations with my classmates. When I found out that I was graduating high school a year early, instead of being proud of all of my hard work, I was stressed out about college, because I knew I did not have the resources or funding to attend. My college adviser, Holly, told me about TheDream.US scholarship. She noticed that even though I studied hard and enjoyed school, I was not even looking into colleges because I knew I would not be to afford the tuition. My elementary school guidance counselor Ms. Rivera also pushed me very hard to apply for the scholarship. Without these two amazing angels in my life that kept motivating me and believing in my potential, I would never come to realize it myself. I was even thinking about rejecting the opportunity to graduate a year early and stay the extra year because I wanted to extend my education as much as I could and I didn’t think college was in the cards for me. TheDream.US scholarship gave me the chance to imagine a future as a college student. My parents are extremely proud that they have been able to give me the opportunity to graduate from high school and to attend college, achievements they weren’t able to experience themselves. I’ve seen them cry with happiness when they realize that I will not have to work minimum wage jobs like they do, and will have the chance to build a successful career. Higher education access for DREAMers is essential to our society. Just because we do not have status does not prohibit us from having amazing ideas we can contribute to this country. We can be an asset to this country, and it would be smart and beneficial to all to utilize us. If I did not have access to higher education, I would probably be working in a restaurant with my parents. There is nothing wrong with working in a restaurant and I am forever in debt to them, but they did not sacrifice everything so I can follow their footsteps. They want me to walk on my own.

My goal is to become an immigration lawyer. I want to help those who are in a similar situation to me, especially those of younger generations. I want to help people who are unable or too scared to reach out for help due to their immigration status. That fear is real, I know it all too well. But it can be overcome.