Latino Giant of The Week: Melanie Molina

When I was a child, my grandmother would tell me, “The sky is the limit, mi hija, you can be anything you want to be.” I’d like you to keep these words in mind as I share with you my story.

Both of my parents grew up in the southernmost part of Texas known as the Rio Grande Valley. My mom was one of eight girls; they spent their summers traveling to places like Wyoming, Oregon and Idaho to pick cotton and strawberries as migrant farm workers. My dad grew up in an area many know as the barrio. His father abandoned him, his brother, and his mother when he was eight years old, leaving him with the responsibility of supporting my grandmother financially. College wasn’t a priority in either of my parents’ families, yet both of them took the initiative to become first-generation college students. My dad was fortunate in that he was given a full scholarship to The University of Texas at Austin (because the original recipient decided she didn’t want it), and my mom chose to get her Bachelor’s degree when I was nine years old. Were it not for my parents’ efforts, our family would never have broken out of the cycle of poverty.

My parents did the very best that they could with what they had to provide for me, and I admire and love them for that. However, my childhood wasn’t perfect. Alcoholism and drug abuse were long-standing struggles in my family. We didn’t live in a very bad part of Austin—nevertheless, the school district wasn’t exactly what you would call “reputable”. Gang fights and numerous bomb threats became standard weekly occurrences at my high school. You could probably guess that I was becoming somewhat of an angry kid.

Six words that a school administrator said changed my life: “These kids aren’t going to college.”

These kids aren’t going to college. Hearing those words spurred the development of a fierce determination within me. Suddenly, getting into college wasn’t just about continuing a tradition of higher education in my family; it was about setting an example for the students at my school and showing the administration that we could, and WOULD attend college.

When I got to college, however, I must say, entering the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program was quite a bit of a shock for me. Never before had I been exposed to such talented, intelligent and capable individuals in my life. To be honest, my self-worth began to depreciate. I was the only kid in class that didn’t get the concept; I was the only kid in class that didn’t learn this or that in high school. I began to ask myself: what in the world am I doing here? I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t think that I was good enough.

Among the events that led to my turning point in college was an interview with Dr. David Laude, then the Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. I remember spewing out to him my goals in life and how I planned to achieve them and he asked me, “What if someone comes up to you and says, ‘I don’t think you can do it?’” I remember saying to him that I would tell that person: “Yes I can. And I will.” I thought of the administrator at my high school and in that moment, I remember feeling that same determination come back to me. (The rest is history.)

Great. Why am I telling you all of this? I want it to be very clear that it is NOT to garner your pity, or your admiration, but rather to impart to you a bit of wisdom that I’ve learned:

Compañeros, as you embark on your journey (i.e. life) in pursuit of your dreams, you will meet many people who doubt your capabilities. My involvement in the Latino community has shown me that the greatest hindrance to the achievement of remarkable potential is self-doubt. NEVER, EVER underestimate yourself or your abilities. Follow your passions and your dreams, and don’t worry about anything else. If you want to achieve your goals badly enough, you will FIND a way to do so.

In short, if there is anything that you take away from my story, let it be my grandmother’s message:

The sky is the limit. You can be anything you want to be.

Melanie Molina graduated with a 4.0 from The University of Texas at Austin, receiving a Bachelor of Science honors degree in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts honors degree in Hispanic Studies. She will be attending Harvard Medical School in the fall. In addition to her MD, she plans to receive a Master of Public Health and ultimately serve in Third World, Latin-American countries.

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