Tag Archives: Stanford

Si Se Pudo?

12 Jun

A first gen/low income, mom, non-traditional undergrad perspective
B.S. Computer Science AI Track
Stanford University Class of 2020

This week was the last week of classes of the last quarter of undergrad.

For those of you with me since the early days, you know that I’ve been through so many ups and downs, and so many ups that were actually downs, and so, so many rock bottoms. Some day, I may tell you the full chisme, osea the ‘not the autobiography’ autobiography. Aveces, osea siempre, in my world, a way out is always a good thing.

But we’re here. We made it, no?

So many years of wondering if we would ever be able to say, I graduated from X college. And it just happens that our chingona self can say, “I graduated from Stanford with a mother-effin Computer Science in the AI track degree (with three kids in tow – what you do?!!)!” Okay maybe most of that will be in my head but you bet that I will be thinking it while staring down some condescending, mediocre cualquiera in the valley – not the LA valley but this fake Silicon Valley. Wait, does that translate to fake FAKE valley? 🧐

I have been whispering to myself, “just get that college degree” for so long that I never thought to think what I would tell myself once I actually got it. And maybe I’ve read too many inspiring stories of Black and Brown people that have “beat the odds”, that have “made it”, that have gone from homelessness to self-made successes. Because although I could relate to the raw pain of knowing you could make it only to be presented with a new challenge, a new way to prove yourself, I didn’t think about how lonely and angry it could make you feel.

We all love a good story. An inspiring story. But we NEVER respect, honor, nor SEE the person making that story.

We make certain people invisible in this world. We smirk, we look confused, skeptical – most of the time not bothering to try to figure the person out. We move on, we discredit their plans, we don’t believe them, we think ‘Oh okay, this person is all big talk’ if we even bother to think, or do, anything but roll our eyes. We are a cruel people. And we are a hypocritical people. Because when that person becomes “somebody”, we fall all over ourselves clapping and cheering on with tear brimmed eyes because it’s just so damn inspiring. We cheer only once the damn game has been won.

I know I’m incredibly intelligent, I’ve known that my whole life. But I’ve also had to prove that to everyone my whole life. I’ve never had the pleasure of having my answer accepted without an automatic, “are you sure? How do you know?” And that’s at the most polite end. I’ve had to politicize and strategize my words and work to manipulate those around me into thinking that my ideas were their own ideas. I’ve had to lead so many horses to water and convince the horse over and over again that they were the ones leading me. So maybe after so many years of telling myself that once I had that computer science degree from an elite university, that I would be free from that required humiliating and tiresome explanation. But now that I’m done, a sinking sensation has spread from my stomach to my chest to the bottom of my feet because even with a Stanford CS degree in the AI track – those people will keep finding a way to invalidate my accomplishments.

So forgive me for feeling tired and not feeling particularly celebratory while our country is gripped with having to explain the obvious to hateful racists and those who deny that they are racists while spouting hate out of the side of their necks.

Forgive me for feeling so fucking angry and exhausted at having to educate people that Black Lives Matter is not political. Forgive me while I recoil in disgust from White America and the communities of color that are just as racist.

I have my own experience with racism and with being judged as less intelligent or capable because my skin happens to be brown, but what makes me truly sick, what throws me into the deepest despair of depression is knowing that even with the shitty life I have experienced, is knowing that it does not compare – cannot come close to comparing to what Black Americans experience.

So no, I don’t think this is a moment to celebrate. I won’t celebrate what I’ve known all along I was capable of doing.

I will celebrate if these protests continue; if America’s short term memory can finally be seared with the present that never changes; if we do not look away until we all fight for Black Lives Matter no matter the cost to our own personal comfort.

I will celebrate when you accept that our system is fundamentally flawed. That our educational system is failing our children. And that incremental change and reform is not enough. That the broken inner city public school system is nothing more than a pipeline into stagnant water where a meek existence is considered success given the alternative is the prison system. And sure there are hairline cracks that allow a handful to escape and “make it.” But make no mistake about it, those cracks are there not by design but from the outward pressure of our own greatness trying to escape the crushing confinement of failure.

We are capable of running an equitable world.

I will celebrate when you thank us for only wanting equity.

The Most Deafening Sound is Silence

2 Jun

I’ve read too many tweets, threads, LinkedIn posts, etc. where as soon as a Black person posts about their pain there are comments by those in the Latino, Asian, and all non-Black communities that jump in and say “What about us?!” I’ve seen chats where females try to prioritize their trauma as sexual abuse/assault survivors over the Black Lives Matter movement.

I speak from the perspective of: a first-generation Mexican-American; a mother to three daughters; and as an Angeleno from Westlake / Boyle Heights / East LA. I speak as someone who was sexually, emotionally, physically abused by family throughout my childhood. I speak as a former single mother who has had to degrade herself in order to keep a roof over her kids’ head; as a domestic violence survivor; and as someone who has experienced a multitude of prejudice in the workplace/school/relationships for being what I was born as – a brown Latina.

Yet NONE of the pain from these experiences can remotely compare to the pain and racism that Black Americans have to grapple with throughout the entirety of their lives.

I am highly empathetic but I know that I can never fully comprehend the threat that Black people in America face every single day.

Like many of you, I have been on Twitter every waking hour to keep up to date with developments. And like many of you, I have woken up every single day with a crushing pain in my chest, the hurt choking me and making it hard to breathe. I am constantly lightheaded – as even my own self wants to slip out of this reality, and I have so much rage because this is not a new occurrence.

Racism is not new. Police brutality is not new.

Nor has either ever ceased to exist. Racism has actively harmed Black Americans since the founding of this country. We The Protestors tracks and visualizes all police killings since 2015. I encourage you to support their work and to see for yourself why Black Americans (and those who stand with them) are overwhelmed with the compounding effect of so many needless deaths – so many murders without consequences at the hands of police.

I used to question my own feelings as White and other non-Black people gaslighted me for my outrage, for my searing pain at the injustices that the Black community faces. But they were never in the right.

We have seen many instances on Twitter of White / non-Black Americans trying to squash the conversation around Black Lives Matter by saying that it is not appropriate to discuss racism in a professional setting or that it is unhelpful to demand of them to get involved.

They are doing what they’ve done for centuries – using their Whiteness/proximity to Whiteness and unearned power to condescendingly educate us on which is the right way to protest and not.

They continue to value the loss of property over the loss of life and pretend that they are two separate things, as if peaceful protests haven’t been carried out time and time again without producing results.

They continue to curl their lips in disgust at the vision of screaming protestors as if we were uncouth to march and stand for basic human rights and the just treatment of Black Americans. And usually (and time and time again in the past) this has worked.

But we are seeing a shift. As soon as they are called out and see the backlash that can potentially harm their property (e.g. their employment, investments, networks, etc.), they are backtracking. They are apologizing on Twitter and donating to Black organizations. I hope that they are truly remorseful and that they use their privilege to educate their networks, family, and friends. I hope that they can stop seeing themselves as “US” and Black Americans as “THEM”.

The treatment of Black Americans has not changed. America has and continues to treat Black Americans as subhuman, as not feeling pain, as criminals, as a threat, as statistics. What has changed is that the nation is breaking under the weight of racism. What has changed is that the old mainstream views are becoming uncouth, unacceptable to admit publicly, and getting close to real consequences.

Before you make yourself feel better by claiming that you are not a racist, I want to remind you that racism does not exist in extremes or a vacuum. Racism is woven into the daily lives of a Black Americans. Racism is every: micro-aggression; continual requirement for Black people to justify their credentials and ability; time they have to prove why they belong on a space that is dominated by White people, time that they are stereotyped; pulled over; ignored by their doctors; “put in their place” by teachers and counselors; followed in stores; avoided in the street; stared at; seen skeptically; face betrayal when they are subjected to racist behavior by those who they trusted as an ally (and the list goes on and on). Racism is not experienced individually but as the build up of every racist instance they’ve had to deal with that day.

While the list of ways that Black Americans experience racism in the US is non-exhaustive, there are equally many ways you should make a difference in your daily life to fight racism.

Call out the colleague/classmate/boss/professor/investor who is passive-aggressive, who blocks promotions, who speaks condescendingly, who doesn’t invite them to outside of work socializing, who doesn’t hire them, who doesn’t invite them to panels, etc.

Be an observer when you see an interaction with a police officer and use your white privilege and the safety it affords you by policing the police.

Stop your family and friends when they use racist language. Educate them and don’t use the excuse that they are a different generation and “don’t mean it like that.”

Reflect on whether you are prioritizing your fight (as a non-Black POC, LGBTQ, and/or any identity that you belong to) over the NECESSITY of saving Black lives.

Listen and don’t make statements that invalidate their experience such as “I don’t think they meant it that way” claiming that you “give everyone the benefit of the doubt” as if you are being the bigger person. Black people do not have the privilege of blindly trusting everyone and believing that they won’t be harmed.

This is overwhelming but when you want to lean away from the subject because it is “too much” or you can’t handle that much pain – remind yourself that Black Americans don’t have the privilege of distancing themselves from their daily lives.

You don’t have to have the words that makes it all better because no one expects nor believes that your words or any words can make it all better. Don’t use that as an excuse to explain why you’re not saying anything on the matter.

Your silence hurts.

Don’t leave your friends and family wondering which side of the conversation you’re on. If you are not fighting against racism, you are part of the problem.

At minimum, donate to an organization that is listed in the Minnesota Freedom Fund and publicly share your donation while asking your network to do the same.

Don’t expect your Black colleagues / classmates / students to show up as if nothing happened. They are under incredibly painful and extreme duress and should not have to prioritize your pSets, exams, reports, code, etc. over the struggle to be seen as human beings and the grief at the continued murdering of Black Americans by police with impunity.

Actively lighten the load of Black Americans. This can be advocating for your Black colleagues / classmates / students (without requiring them to participate). It includes pressuring your boss or professors to provide paid time off or make assignments and exams optional (without requiring them to reach out). That last part is key. I’ve seen professors offering accommodations IF students reach out. Don’t do that – the onus is on YOU, not them, to realize that they are not in a space to even think about your classroom (nor should they have to).

I understand that the pain many of us are feeling can make us feel numb, detached, deeply depressed but I also realize that this pain will only go away with real lasting change. Quite frankly I wish that everyone felt this pain, maybe then they would demand change if for no other reason than to stop hurting.

As a Latina I particularly ask my Latino community to accept that anti-Blackness permeates our culture and that it is our responsibility to eradicate it. Here’s what NOT to do. Don’t make this about Latinos (and don’t forget that many Latinos are Black Latinos). Do the right thing and stand firmly (al cien) with the Black community in actively fighting for equal justice.

The Importance of Normalizing “Failure” and Looking Back – The Path to Stanford

17 Jan

Okay, get comfortable because I can tell this is going to be a long post.

Three years ago…

I was a first year at Stanford. I transferred in after attending many community colleges (a class here, a class there, or many failed attempts of trying to go back to school).

The years leading up to Stanford:

As an 18 yo HS grad -> attended Loyola Marymount University but for many reasons I had to drop out first semester.

To give you a sense of how many times I attempted to go back to school (and to see the shift in my circumstances from downward to upward), I attended:

LA all day – more like all the hell over LA…

  • Santa Monica College (at night):

I lived in Boyle Heights, worked full time for the City of LA as a clerk in downtown Los Angeles, and commuted via bus (think long ass commute) or getting a ride from my sometimes willing boyfriend at the time.

  • East Los Angeles Community College:

I was 20 + pregnant, nuff said.

  • Pasadena City College:

I was living in downtown LA, my girls were 3, and this was a few months after my separation with their bio donor. I was a wreck. Didn’t go well.

The Upturn – I made a ‘reasonable’ GOAL with Purpose
  • Los Angeles Community College

This was my first successful attempt at going back to school.  My girls were 6 & was 7. I was living in Chinatown (my first time living in an apt on my own (well with my babies) but no one else to depend on for the rent. I worked full time as a business development coordinator at a law firm in downtown LA. And I had my own car! I was still paycheck to paycheck BUT hey we weren’t homeless and we weren’t living with an abusive person so Life Was Good.

I leaned on my sister, mom, and many friends to help me with picking up my girls from their after school program one day a week so I could go to class 6 – 10pm. Don’t get it twisted, this was super stressful week to week. Peeps would commit to do it and then fail to show up.

The GOAL: I made an agreement with myself, you ever do that? Talk to yourself and be like “Okay Susana, we are not going to worry about that, let’s remember our goal. Remember the Goal: Take a class that you enjoy and see if you can complete it successfully.” It’s super helpful and centering.

I loved the comparative politics class. I purposefully chose a poliSci class bc I love me some history + politics. And I finished it with an A. When I saw my exam, paper, and final score I was so floored. I howled with happiness in my car. Hey! Celebrate + Congratulate yourself! 🎉

Left my Beautiful LA for the Bay Area 😢 😔 😞 😭  

  • Cañada College (Redwood City in the peninsula) Attempt 1!

I had recently moved to the bay area on a big fucking gamble and trust in myself that I was going to make it happen. I still impress myself for having the balls and self-belief to have done that move. I was hired by a top 3 global law firm as a TEMP coordinator to cover the coordinators in the Silicon Valley office during maternity. Yeah girl, as a temp. 

When one of the head honchos – I swear everyone and their mother interviewed me here – asked me, “Are you comfortable accepting a temporary position?” I answered, “I am confident that my work will speak for itself and either you will offer me a permanent position or I will have no problem securing offers from other firms.” BOOM lady. Heck yeah I was sh!tt!ng bricks with that job being temp and having 0 benefits – single mom ‘member! – but I took a gamble on myself.

That’s the thing right, when you’re fighting so hard to succeed, all you can think about is – just let me concentrate on getting this done and I will worry about that when I have to. It will work out. What other choice do you have?

They hired me on the spot and I enrolled my girls at an excellent school nearby. Everything good so far. I was still on a high from that A from LACC so I enrolled at the local community college in Redwood City into their College for Working Adults (CWA)program.

Side note: I didn’t know community colleges could be this beautiful!

Their CWA program is for working adults, all classes are offered in the evenings and weekends and you are guaranteed a spot – no waiting bc a class was full. The offer several Associate Degrees – no technical ones but I will get to that in a minute.

I started enrolled in classes, started working and then the first day of classes as I was getting ready to leave a partner in the firm caught me on my way out and asked for a pitch for a new biotech client opportunity. 😧

I couldn’t reach anyone in the BD team – I was an hourly temp, not salary – and he was insistent in a way I couldn’t say no (blocked the door as he started telling me what he needed) so I called the school and let them know I wouldn’t be able to attend. Since the first attendance was mandatory, I missed that semester.

Staying on Path: Look, there will always be circumstances that try to stop you from reaching your goal. Work (that you’re trying to leave) will get in the way. Parenting. Taking care of ailing family. A bill you didn’t plan for nor have the funds for. [insert the many ways shit 💩  can hit the fan]

But the 🔑 key is that you can’t let a stumble get you down. I took stock of my circumstances and realized I was putting a lot on my plate. I altered my immediate goal to: Be a BadAss Mother Effer at work -> get hired permanently = benefits for kids and me. So I took the energy that would have gone into the missed semester and threw so much fierceness their way that I had several partners lobbying the dept to hire me ASAP. So I got hired as a permanent coordinator and ended up taking over two positions (that shit always happens to me).

The next Semester(s)

Once I had established my reputation at work, I enrolled again and started going to class Thursday evenings form 5 – 10 PM, Saturdays 9 – 3 PM, and online. I kept this up until I managed to get all the requirements to transfer to a Cal State or UC. My dream in the sky would be to go to Berkeley. My dream, dream was to go to Stanford. I didn’t share that dream with people because sometimes people – friends, colleagues, family – can be downright negative. 👎 They think they’re doing you a favor by giving you a ‘reality check’ without any knowledge to the willpower and determination you have inside.

Shining At Work + School + Parenting + Volunteering + New Relationship

I didn’t let up on going full force at work. I stayed late all the time only to go home and work again once my girls went to bed. I regularly pulled 60-70 hour workweeks. I didn’t say no to any ‘opportunity’ (i.e. more responsibility for the same pay) and made my case to get promoted.

In less than a year and a half I went from Temp -> Coordinator -> Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions Group and the Life Sciences Industry Group. It’s a mouthful. I worked with partners in SV, SF, NY, DC, LA, London, Dubai, and Singapore. It was exhausting but also effin exhilarating. I felt like I had a career – not just a job – and now I was salary. And it was a damn good salary period, an incredible salary for someone with only a HS degree.

Staying on Track When You Smell Other Pretty Roses

I could have become complacent with the money and the career I had carved out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But weighing on me was my desire to get my degree.

I didn’t want to continually keep proving myself to new people when they asked where I went to school. My colleagues all graduated from top schools – many from Ivy Leagues and/or had MBAs, law degrees and/or came from affluent families. They had their network, their whiteness, and their social currency to open doors wherever they went. I grew up by McArthur Park and Boyle Heights, went to under-resourced, overcrowded, and failing inner city public schools. My parents are immigrants and didn’t go beyond elementary school. They speak broken English and broken Spanish. The only inheritance they will leave me is the generational trauma and the back tax I have been paying my whole life to help them and the lump sum back tax that I will have to pay when they pass away.

I wanted to get a degree because I was too acquainted with the oppression of poverty and I was sick of people coming up with ways to say No. 

So while I kicked ass at work, I only gave it 80% (because let’s be real Our 80% is other people’s 100%). I made relationships with my counselor, the program director, my professors. I made sure everyone knew knew me so that they would want to vouch for me.

So when it came to applying time…

I almost didn’t turn in my Stanford Application 😦 

I know, right. I worked on the main essay and getting my letters of recommendation (do it way ahead of time). I thought I was giving one of the recommenders ample time but she threw a fit and complained about how I wasn’t giving her enough time. 😑 You don’t know what people have going on so try to do this months before the deadline. I write out what I wanted them to focus on to make it easier for them.

My other recommender was the senior partner at the firm I worked at. I am very proud that I earned his respect and that he respected me so much as to write a letter of recommendation (he was hoping I would go to Cal over Stanford but still wrote it!) even though it could mean me leaving.

Day of Deadline 11:30 PM

I’m not going to tell you some of the stuff that I left for the last minute bc Don’t Procrastinate! But I was filled with so much self-doubt that I started to convince myself that it was an excellent idea NOT to Apply. It cost $90 and who can toss $90? Wouldn’t it be better NOT to apply and thus not confirm that they didn’t want me?

Straight up, the only reason I hit submit was that I didn’t want to face those who wrote my letters and my fiancee at the time when I had to fess up that I didn’t apply.

So at 11:(too close to midnight I submitted) – seriously don’t do that. 

I found out I got into UC Berkeley the day after I gave birth. I was in the maternity ward hitting refresh while breastfeeding my newborn. You can read about that here. Fast forward to when I had my daughter (she was 2 weeks old) and I found out I fucking got in with an acceptance rate < 2%. You can read about that moment here.

And then she lived happily ever after 😂 🤣 😆 

No girl, with every up there’s a down. And oh have there been so many downs. But this post is long enough and I want to leave you with:

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.04 PM

and …. (I’ve now responded to 100+ messages)

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.45 PM

While I can no longer have detailed 1:1 talks, please read this excellent post with advice on the transfer process. If you have QUESTIONS, please comment on that post and I promise to do my best to answer them.

Follow Me on Twitter @susanabenavidez and subscribe to my blog! I post really long posts but I promise that they are top shelf quality 😉

Moral of the story:

Never Close Your Own Door – Apply!!

I got into Stanford and I’m a Stanford Kinda Gal

9 Oct

I can’t remember how I first heard about Stanford and started dreaming that I would attend one day. I do remember the walks home from Roosevelt High School freshman year vividly.  I lugged my backpack over my hunched shoulders, leaning forward to offset the weight, and dreamt. As I passed by the Food 4 Less parking lot I dreamt about getting the acceptance letter. As I passed by the 7 Mares, I dreamt about walking on campus and attending lecture. I dreamt and I dreamt until I walked into my home.

My life took many turns and the Stanford dream slipped away, seemingly impossible to reach.

Three years ago, Bella, Iza, and I made the joint decision to uproot our lives and move to the bay area. A few months later, I enrolled in the local community college and went to school on Thursday nights, Saturdays, and online. For almost three years I juggled a demanding career, being a mother, being a partner, and school. I studied after everyone went to sleep and studied before anyone woke up. At times it seemed impossible to continue. But no matter the road bumps, I made it work. I persevered.

When I kept getting straight A’s semester after semester, the Stanford dream crept back in. But this time it wasn’t a dream, it was a fantasy. During my morning runs I would pound the pavement for 5 miles or more until my body could take no more. I think I was physically punishing my body. Punishing myself for daring to dream about Stanford. I equated that dream to fantasizing about becoming a billionaire (from my multiple successful startups of course) and solving the world’s problems. I didn’t dare hope that it could happen.

When it was time to apply I applied to the UCs and hoped that Berkeley would say yes. I started the Stanford application weeks ahead of the deadline but didn’t know if I would submit it. I loved the questions they asked, how thoughtful and insightful they were. I enjoyed working on the application and I figured it didn’t hurt to write. I could always use those answer for my UC applications.

As the deadline neared I agonized about asking for recommendation letters. I felt like others would see me as ridiculous for daring to apply. But I asked.

The night that the application was due, I kept toying with the submission button. Everyone was asleep and I was downstairs staring at the screen until I hit submit at 11:30 pm.

I would have put it completely out of mind if not for Ryan telling everyone that I applied to Berkeley and Stanford. I appreciated his confidence but I felt incredibly pained when he said it out loud. I could see others thinking – Does she know the acceptance rate hovers around 1 – 2 %?

I found out that I got into Berkeley the day after I had Valentina. I thought we were set to move to Berkeley and make it work.

During the drive up to Berkeley for a transfer student welcome event I figured that I would log in and check the response from Stanford. I had received an email the day before from Stanford and had to request a password reset to access my account. I hadn’t told Ryan that I had a response. I neededed to compose myself and process the rejection by myself first before telling him. I figured I was in such a high from getting into Berkeley that I could take the rejection. Valentina, only a few days old, slept in the car seat next to me. My mother (staying with us for a couple of weeks to help) sat on the other side. Ryan was driving and braving traffic as the day was grey with fog and rain.  I logged in from my phone and saw the letter. I read the first few lines. Puzzled, I read it again. My blood ran cold and I felt disoriented; only the heaviness in my stomach anchored me to my seat.  “One of the best parts of my job…” Only after I read it a third time did I cry out suddenly, “OH MY GOD!” “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Ryan braked and accidentally exited the freeway. He and my mother both looked at me with a mix of bewilderment and concern. “What’s wrong?!”

I couldn’t speak. I took a breath, and another. “I GOT INTO STANFORD!”

My mom teared up and Ryan cried out. He pulled over and parked on the side of a road and I read them the acceptance letter. I called my sister and told her. We screamed with joy and excited energy.

We did attend the orientation event and I was inspired by the future Berkeley students but I was still dazed by the news. We left early and went home to tell Bella and Iza.

A few weeks later and I’m now two weeks into my first quarter at Stanford. It is everything and so much more that I dreamt it would be. This place is paradise. I feel an incredible sense of belonging, of being cared for and guided, and of the infinite possibilities for my future (well finite only because at some point I will have to graduate).

When I started this blog I wondered if and when I would be able to write happy stories. Would I only be sharing stories of pain and survival? Would I ever be able to share stories about my life thriving?

I am incredibly fortunate to have so many people around me that love me and that I can pour my love into. My life has been healthy and happy. But it is now bursting with the promise of personal achievement. I thought that I had permanently failed all of my great teachers, coaches, and cheerleaders from my youth when my life took a different path. But I now have the luxury and great fortune to be able to go back to school and invest in myself.

Now I run without bounds. I recognize no limits. I’m taking life by the horns and making it my b!tch. And damn, does it feel good.

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