ALTADENA, Calif. - “Dear Emily,”

My heart stops, drops, and practically feels like rolling out of my body. Why is this email 10 days early? What is happening right now?

“Congratulations! I am pleased to offer you admission to the University of Southern California as part of the entering class of fall 2020.”

For the past two years of my life, the moment I had been dreaming of finally came true on that ordinary Thursday evening. My night became so extraordinary.

Growing up, my parents never pressured me to think that attending a university was a must, but more so a good idea to keep in mind. Rather, I would hear my white friend’s parents boast about college legacies, SAT scores this, and acceptance to that, throughout my adolescence. I oddly envied that pressure. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t want to push me to attend college, but because they didn’t know how to. I am the first in my family to pursue higher education for my future career, unlike my white counterparts and their families. It was a weird feeling.

My father, a truck driver, and mother, a stay at home mom, would constantly remind me that I had accomplished more than they ever did at my age. I never found this as a form of motivation, in fact, it made me feel lost. My father immigrated from Guatemala at the age of 22, striving to live the “American Dream.” My mother entered directly into the workforce to financially sustain her quality of life. College was not the focus of my parent’s lives the way it has been for me.

When I was accepted into USC, it was not just me who won the acceptance to a top ranking, private university. It was my entire family’s first time being accepted as well. The picture of the cardinal and gold letters swarmed in my head, this was absolutely insane, and there was no sleeping that night. From my little brother hugging me as tight as ever and jumping for joy, to my parents ecstatic in becoming a “Trojan family,” and my abuelita screaming “Santo niño, bendito sea Dios,” (Spanish for “Holy child, blessed be God”) while crying over the phone.

Being accepted into USC has been the biggest accomplishment of my life so far.

However, I never thought I’d be stepping into a prestigious university during a global pandemic. You’re telling me I waited two extra years as a community college student, worked tirelessly on my application to the point of ridicule, to attend Zoom University? The world has thrown me the biggest curve ball of them all, to “just deal with it.” Soon enough, I told myself “just do it.”

As a junior, journalism major, I am striving to find my focus within the field, especially within the Latinx community. Latinx culture is what I carry closest to me, and weaving it within my future career in journalism is my ultimate goal.

Fighting my own negative thoughts about what I can and cannot accomplish during COVID-19 has struck me like a ton of bricks. I realize that being a student at USC is not easy, and though I feel overwhelmed in the best ways possible, I am at a constant battle if I can make this all possible for myself, my mental state, and my overall wellbeing. I think back on all this time where I’ve had limited parental guidance, how I’m facing higher education and doing this all on my own

Surprisingly, COVID-19 has taught me that there is still hope in what I can do as a student journalist all while navigating life trying to survive a global pandemic. I have come to the realization that I am extremely blessed and privileged to attend this university. I have access to quality online instruction. I have the means and the resources to keep up with my class work, from a working laptop, to a desk to sit at, to fast Wi-Fi. My discovery of the Dímelo team has allowed me to form a sense of community in these strenuous times, my niche in the Latinx community among this predominantly white institution.

“Avoid the way of thinking negatively, and do not diminish yourself. If you are here it is because you earned own it,” said junior transfer student Ariel Guadron, and my colleague at Dímelo.

Besides routine and organization, which I picked up around the third week of classes, I am also reflecting on self love more than I have ever before. What does learning mean to me? What does working so hard to get to where I’m at now mean to me? I take my breaks from class and walk outdoors onto the grass, barefoot, to absorb the earth’s energy, to be one with the fresh soil. Eventually, I wind back to the Kobe Bryant picture on my iPhone’s home screen, a reminder to keep up the Mamba Mentality. I also open up my laptop and see my wallpaper. It’s an image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. It inspires me to push forward and work harder to achieve my dreams.

I think to myself, “Trust the process, Emily, this is only the beginning.”