Latino Giant: Valentina Perez

valentina harvardI’ve had a lot of luck in my life so far. Though many people say this, it’s true, and I can’t tell my “story of success” honestly without acknowledging those things that came together well for me. I was lucky that my family was able to leave Venezuela when I was young, and we were fortunate to have a place to go in the U.S. when we arrived. I was lucky that my sister was accepted into a program called Prep for Prep, which takes minority children in New York City who show academic promise and puts them through a 14-month academic program to prepare them to attend New York independent schools, and I was lucky that I was also accepted into Prep a year later. We were fortunate to attend an all-girls’ private school from the 7th-12th grade which gave me a great education and helped me grow as a strong young woman.

I was also very lucky to be accepted into Harvard. Each year, tens of thousands of qualified, talented, and immensely intelligent students apply to Harvard, yet only about 1,600 are accepted. In 2011, I happened to be one of those 1,600. I have no idea how this happened. There are times when I suddenly realize that I am at Harvard. I realize that I am a student at Harvard University. Then I think about the other amazing, talented, and smart people at Harvard and wonder how I could possibly be in their ranks.

These thoughts of self-doubt and emphasis on the luck in my life don’t come from a lack of self-confidence. Instead, they come from a lack of objectivity about my own experience. Since I have been the person living and breathing my life, I don’t see it as impressive or noteworthy. I know that I’m good at school, that I like to read and to learn, and that I have applied myself in a lot of activities. I know that I have taken advantage of many opportunities that have come my way. So I know that I’m qualified enough and smart enough to be at Harvard. But I also know how I struggle through math, and how long it takes me to write and edit papers. I know all the time I spent studying and practicing sports in middle and high school, and how much time and work I put into my activities now. Since I’ve experienced every minute of my success and all that led me here, it doesn’t feel particularly special to me; it just feels like my life. It is in my occasional, somewhat clairvoyant, reflective moments that I see that luck or coincidence alone did not lead me to where I am today. It was my hard work, dedication, and ambition that did that, and luck played an important but auxiliary role. This is what I most take away from success: though it usually seems and feels like nothing special, it’s important to remember that good fortune doesn’t create success; it simply helps push effort and drive into fruition.  

Valentina Perez is currently a sophomore at Harvard College majoring in Social Studies with a minor in French. Born in Venezuela, she now lives in New York City with her parents and older sister. At college, Valentina is involved in Harvard’s Institute of Politics in political journalism and policy writing. She is also involved in Harvard’s pan-Latino cultural group as Secretary.