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Kevin Ortiz

Country of Origin: Mexico

Age of Arrival: 12 years old

Hometown: Orlando, FL

Degree: Finance

I believe that there are 3 components to the “Key to Joy.” Set high standards for yourself, have low expectations from others towards you and dream big!

When I received DACA in the fall of 2013, I knew it was time. It was time for my deferred dream to explode. It was time to return to college. I finally had an identification card and enough savings to start college without getting into ridiculous debt. Even if I had to get student loans, I was not stopping! Then, I found TheDream.US scholarship and the world changed. Receiving the generous scholarship helped me beyond the money – it helped me psychologically. I finally felt that I had someone in my corner. I had someone who believed in me. The support pushed me into high gear.

During my senior year of high school, I was a Dual Enrollment Student with Valencia Community College. By the time I graduated high school in 2008, I had earned 33 college credits thanks to dual enrollment courses and AP classes. I graduated with a 4.3 GPA and was well on my way to college. At least, that is what my teachers thought. My dream for a college education turned into a dream deferred. DACA didn’t exist in 2008. Florida in-state tuition for select undocumented students did not exist in 2008, and federal aid for undocumented students still does not exist.

Despite these obstacles, I always knew that one I would go to college. Someday, the stars would align and I needed to be ready. So, I saved my money. In 2014, with the help of DACA, in-state tuition, and the money I saved working fulltime for six years, I returned with a vengeance to Valencia College. I would graduate with my associates degree and a 4.0 in the summer of 2015.

In the fall of 2015, I transferred to University of Central Florida to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration. It made sense to stay in Orlando – I could save on housing, support my family, and continue my job as a line cook. While attending college, I continued to work 30 hours a week in a restaurant. During my first semester at UCF, I enrolled in 6 classes and kept my job. It wasn’t easy, but the decision was worth it. I got straight A’s that semester and made it to the President’s Honor Roll.

My second semester at UCF, everything changed. I realized that a degree would not guarantee a job upon graduation. If I was going to get my dream job, I had to engage beyond the academics. My new mentality led me to complete three internships – an unpaid marketing internship with Prospera USA, a non-profit organization supporting Hispanic entrepreneurs in Florida; an unpaid portfolio management internship with Ameriprise Financial Services; and an internship with Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle, WA. To intern with the greatest airplane manufacturer in the world was by far the greatest experience of my college career, as it allowed me to grow as a business individual and experience a new city in the Pacific Northwest. It simply would not have been possible without DACA.

I was very involved on campus as well. I served as a student ambassador for the College of Business. I received the Dean’s Excellence Award for my work with the Onboarding Committee. One of the initiatives I helped developed was so well received by the students, it was incorporated into a new class at the college. Every transfer student at UCF Business must take the class and I got the chance to teach a one-hour lecture during its inaugural semester in the fall of 2017. That is my legacy at UCF!

I am also a member of ALPFA, a founding member of the Latino Leadership Council and the Dreamers at UCF student club.

Academics always came easily to me – I felt I was well ahead of my classmates in all subjects but the language. I was bullied during middle and high school because of my accent, but I kept working hard. It was tough at times, but the books and the videogames helped me get through it.   I’ve always known the importance of my studies, especially given my family’s status.

My father migrated to the United States when I was five years old and sent remesas to my family to support us. It wasn’t until seven years later that I had a chance to live and interact with my father daily. I was 12 years old when we crossed the desert to join my father. My brother was 18 at the time, so he does not qualify for DACA like me. It hurts to see him without the same opportunities as me and my sister. But, there was no way that my brother would have stayed behind while my mother, my sister and I came to the U.S. He deserves better. He deserves the same opportunity.

My father has held two jobs for over 15 years, washing dishes during the weekends and lawn care during the weekdays. He had a legal driver’s license from 2000 to 2008, and even managed to purchase a nice truck in 2007. Back then, it was easier to obtain a license for up to eight years. Since 2008, he refuses to drive – with no license, he understands the risk of driving for our family

I have been the only driver in the house since 2014. I drive my family to church, doctor’s appointments, the supermarket and to work.

My mother is the rock and spiritual leader of the family. She could never help my sister and I with school work because of language barriers, but she always made sure we had clean clothes and food to eat every night. One of my long-term goals is to purchase a home for my mother and father. They deserve it. They are the original dreamers. They have inspired me for greatness. I aspire to inspire the next generation as well!

I’m currently working towards getting into business school for an MBA. Less than 10% of Latino undergrads get a graduate degree. I wish to be part of the change! Currently, I’m applying to finance rotational programs, get work experience and then apply to a great MBA school. I have my eyes set on Harvard Business School. During the Adelante Conference at HBS last fall, I learned just how difficult and possible it is to get into HBS. While, challenging, I won’t let the difficulty stop me. Not this time.

The U.S and Mexico are both my home. “Yo soy de aqui, y de alla!” Mexico is where my family and I were born, so it will always be my home. Nevertheless, I wish to stay in the U.S. for now, because I have lived here over half of my life. It is where I became the man I am today. There is no greater turmoil within me than the question of how do I feel about my country and how does my country feel about me? All I am seeking is a fair and impartial opportunity to live my life and support both my countries.

TheDream.US National Scholarship Applications are still open. The deadline to apply is Feb 29, 2024.

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