Checklist of Dreams

By Edith M. Estrella Ramos
FIVE: Edith M. Estrella Ramos overcame barriers to many dreams and now has added new goals.

Ever since I was a little girl my mother has told me, "Do not let anyone or anything rob you of your dreams!"

I have taken every opportunity since then to dream small and big. I always dreamed of attending college because my mother instilled in me that those who do are successful.

My family came to the United States from the Dominican Republic on a visa when I was 7. When I was older, I found out that our visa expired during the process of seeking permanent residence. My mother spent most of her savings acquiring an immigration lawyer, who instead of giving us proper advice, took our money and ran - leaving us with the stigma of being "illegal."

In high school, I realized the detrimental effect this would have on my college career: I would not be able to apply for much-needed financial assistance. The lawyer who had swindled my family not only ran away with our money, but also with my childhood dream.

I graduated from high school  but never took the SATs or applied for college or scholarships. Disheartened, I got a job as a cashier at the local supermarket.

My mother remarried, and began the process of an adjustment of status. My stepfather would be able to sponsor me since I still met the age requirement. The process was long and nerve-wracking; it seemed as if I was not going to meet the deadline for reasons out of my control - things such as lost paperwork and medical documents expiring.

It was the week before my 21st birthday, and there was no time to get everything processed. I was losing hope. But my mother was able to call in some favors from friends and we were able to get the final envelope a few hours before the Immigration office closed for the week.

My resident card is still the best birthday gift I could ever ask for. I was finally able to end the five-year interruption I had from learning.

I enrolled at Kingsborough Community College in spring of 2007. After my second semester, the college president encouraged me to join the international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. My mother paid the fee and told me, "I want you to graduate with every honor you can obtain." With tears in my eyes, I simply nodded. I was elected recording secretary of the New York region and then, chapter president.

I was an active student who was called upon to give speeches, head special projects and even study abroad in Austria, for the Salzburg Global Seminar.

When I started researching senior colleges to apply to, my advisors suggested Smith College, among others. While I anxiously awaited word from Smith, I kept my spirits up. I had spent so many years dreaming of the day when I would receive an envelope from a prestigious institution.

That day came in late March 2009. I was accepted into Smith College!

I take inventory of the dreams I can now check off the list. Apply and get resident card: check. Enroll in college: check. Become an honor student and become an active leader on campus: check and check. Receive an acceptance letter from Smith College: big check. Make my mother proud: triple check!

Edith M. Estrella Ramos, an honors graduate of Kingsborough Community College, plans to continue her education at Smith College.