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As a young Mexican raised in the ‘ghetto’ side of Rosemead, I have witnessed many situations capable of causing trauma. However, I am fortunate enough to have never witnessed a beheading or my family being killed by shells or my local hospital being bombed by an air strike. Thinking about it now, I have not witnessed anything that could stop me from fulfilling my responsibility as a student. I admit to having slacked off a bit during my last two years of high school but not enough to have prevented my admission into a four year university. I am unsatisfyingly proud with the way I end my high school career.

I write this in dedication to all those who feel like there is no way from the life other than the one leading to health and success. There is a way. I was adopted by an aunt and uncle in order to become a United States citizen. So legally, her children—my cousins—became my siblings. Among my siblings is an older guy (around 20 years older than me) who played a huge influence in my life and in a sense convinced me not to live a life like him. He is the type of guy who, though not directly affiliated, always hung with a crowd of local gang members. I have been around guns, I have seen cocaine laid right in front of me, and I have witnessed stabbed people barely walking. I have seen young men my age throw their life away, participating in criminal activities.

“You can still withdraw yourself from this,” I told a fellow who at the time was a 15-year-old new initiate into the gang life. He answered with a showing of his tattoos, a silent look at his circumstances and, “It is too late.”

To me, there is a bad and good menace to society. One destroys the integrity of its city by dealing drugs, mugging, and spray painting nonsense on walls and one acknowledges how the system traps young minorities, spreads that knowledge, and saves the youth from falling into that trap. Whom would you rather belong to? A person who loves something will not be willing to destroy it. I say that to emphasize that showing love for your city is not using taxpayer money to cover unnecessary graffiti or destroying lives by dealing drugs. To love one’s city is to keep it clean, to keep the youth positively inspired, and to keep the environment safe.

I do not know how difficult the life of anybody is. I can only make the reminder that there are kids who die crossing borders and traveling hundreds of miles just to be able to have the privilege of sitting in a seat at an American school. It is perplexing how one born into that privilege does not take advantage of it. For as long as education remains free, there is no excuse to not excel.

I know what it is like to live with alcoholics. I lost my mother days before my fifth birthday. I have had to work my whole high school career. I know the struggle. What it all comes down to is choices. College is not for everybody and one does not have to attend to be deemed successful. The whole point is to continue to be productive.

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