Johny Ek Aban '19 speaks
There are few instances in which people are completely satisfied. While these instances make life exciting, it is the craving for more that makes our lives and stories intriguing. As a low-income first-gen student, I am rarely content with where am I because I know so many people have fought for me to have the experiences that I have been fortunate enough to partake in. So I always push for more even when know has paved the road for me. My whole life I’ve played catch up and made a path for myself. My first experience playing catch up was in Kindergarten when singing the ABC’s was completely foreign to me, but all my classmates sang along and some could even go backwards from Day 1. What felt like jealousy was the beginning of an insecurity about my academic ability. In the 6th grade, I wanted to be in Advanced English. But I was told I couldn't because I was an ESL student, even though I had met the reading & grade prerequisites for Advanced English. I pushed myself and squeezed my way into Honors English for 7th and 8th grade. In middle school, I was privileged to be as happy as I could be with my life: I had two loving (amicably divorced) parents who could speak English, I had a place I called home and, although I didn't come home to a feast every night, I had the security that I would have dinner every night.
After middle school, I made my way to Branson High School (described by the New York Times as “an enclave within an enclave within an enclave”) thanks to the help of Next Generation Scholars (NGS), a college access program for low-income students in Marin County.
The first day of high school, any shred of confidence in myself and my abilities dissipated. Within minutes of starting my English class and discussing the Book Thief, I knew that this game of catch up I played and won in middle school was far from game over. This time around it was no longer as straightforward as learning the ABC’s. I wound up having to sprint for two years before feeling like it was safe enough to stop. I realized there was a profusion of human and social capital I was missing. And so, the feeling of worthlessness and stupidity began coursing through my veins. I absorbed as much as I could, only opening myself up to a limited few. I quickly learned that not everyone is deserving of our stories.
As I caught up, I began finding my voice with the help of faculty of color on Branson’s campus - they, like me and now you, have navigated the white male dominated world of higher education. They knew it was tough, intimidating, and at times lonely, but they also knew that I would survive and make it. On the flipside, my parents were busy preparing me for the real world - bank accounts, credit cards, cooking, self-care, etc..
As I reflect on my life, I realize how much I and countless others have pushed so that I could earn a spot in Pomona College’s Class of 2019. Today, I'm doing the most but I'm still playing catch up and I'm still not satisfied. I'm a first-generation low-income student but that’s only part of my story.