She told me I’d be a good fit and my parents, although hesitant, drove to and from boarding school fairs, picking up all the brochures and free pens and even to some open houses hosted by parents whose kids had attended different boarding schools. When I remember that my main criteria for schools was whether or not the school name had a nice ring to it, I can’t help but laugh at my clueless 8th grade self.
I applied, went through all the motions and waited for the results. Somehow, I was accepted into Deerfield Academy, a school in west Massachusetts where I would live with 600 other kids. I was lucky to be flown out along with both my mom and dad and was given a tour and slept over for a night. The tour left me in awe. There was no way this was a high school. There were different buildings for each subject, a huge auditorium, a three level library, a beautiful dining hall, a massive swimming pool, fields that stretched for days and that turned blinding white in the winter, and even a river nearby. Being able to go to this school felt like an amazing honor, like I’d won the lottery, like my future was widening and growing in possibilities.
Right before leaving, my mom asked me, “So what do you think? What are the chances you’re going to come here?” I feel like part of her expected me to be unsure, but I gleamed at her and confidently said “100 percent, Mamí.” This was an opportunity of a lifetime, going to a school like Deerfield wasn’t something that was suppose to happen to a kid like me.
September rolled around and it was time to say goodbye to my parents, I hugged them and told them I loved them. I remember the feeling I was left with as they made their way back to the airport. “Here we go.”
My first semester was rough. Everything was suddenly real and in my face. Differences between the home and culture I knew, and this new one I had to adapt to were unapologetically apparent. I missed my mom’s Guatemalan cooking and constantly speaking spanish. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I called my dad and told him I wanted to go home. If I told him this might not be for me and what he would say. Except, I was never really sure it wasn’t for me. It was more of me feeling like I hadn’t actually earned my place. I was there by mistake, they sent the admission letter to the wrong address. This uncertainty that arose from fear of getting rejected and feeling inferior was bringing me down. I became content with being an average student, not always giving my best, giving up before I even gave myself and the people around me a chance. This is something that I will always regret, but that I now appreciate being aware of. The only person that was doubting my place in a school like Deerfield Academy was me.
You would think that my concerns would have to do more with not fitting in socioeconomically, after all, there were classmates of mine from very fortunate, wealthy families and I came from immigrant parents living in a humble home, relying on financial aid and a scholarship for my studies. The fact that I got help financially affected me in terms of wanting to prove myself and make sure the people investing in me weren’t disappointed, but I didn’t feel like I had to have material items to fit in. What I was worried about was feeling less intellectual than my classmates who had resources to help them on their path to a school like Deerfield. Eventually, I came to accept myself and the idea that I didn’t have to settle for less or hold myself back. I could ask for help and not feel dumb or like I was constantly having to rely on others. I made the most of the resources I was now blessed to have available. I became independent, but also aware of areas where I could improve myself. I knew I had grown out of that closed mindedness when I began the college process. If freshman Celeste had still been prominent, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to apply to a college like the University of Pennsylvania. If I had never gotten over the idea that I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough, or able to succeed, I would have never submitted an application to a college where I would be challenged, where I would be forced to explore myself and the community around me. This is why I am so thankful to Deerfield. Thankful for the opportunity to want more for myself and not feel bad about it or like I don’t deserve it because of where I come from. Instead, to know that there is no reason to expect less. For the motivation to keep going and to keep reaching, so that other girls like me can do so too.
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