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College Day: Overcoming Barriers to Walk through Doors of Opportunity

Author: Elizabeth Figueroa, Special Programs Manager

Some of us are born into families who are trying to make their way up from a home with dirt floors. Some of us are born into families where our immediate post-high school financial contribution is valued more than a shot at college. And some of us are born into families where our lives are shaped with the expectation that every decision will lead to a college degree.  

Individuals are born as blank slates, but the families we are born into can determine whether we will be surrounded by one of two things: barriers or doors of opportunity. With the help of volunteer community speakers, SJSU community engaged learners, and passionate school counselors at all grade levels, College Day helps chisel away at barriers and opens doors to possibilities.

The Downtown Councilmember

For the third year since he’s been elected, District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez gave a speech on College Day. He’s perfectly suited to speak at schools, like Sacred Heart Nativity, where the students are largely Latino and low income because he grew up just like them. The speech seemed politically motivated as he explained his councilmember duties until he revealed he never imagined himself on this career path. The SJSU Alumnus thought he’d be a math teacher for the rest of his days. He thought this would make him happy.

Peralez took the audience of middle school students back two generations to Monterrey, Mexico where his grandparents” home had a dirt floor. From there, he fast forwarded to his high school years where he first learned about college. By then, some opportunities were lost because he hadn’t been a model student. His parents didn’t know what the path to college looked like and parents of much of the Sacred Heart Nativity School audience are likely to experience a similar situation. So he showed them a preview of the path.

For a moment, the councilmember became an artist and completed a whiteboard drawing explaining the milestones to achieve while pursuing a higher education and lifelong learning. He highlighted that post-high school life doesn’t have to include a university, but it should include further education in something that is special to a young adult.

 District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez illustrated sample education milestones to achieve and barriers to overcome.

World of opportunities including being offered to to work on submarines for the Navy.

College = public speaking, reports, etc

High school = Grasp math concepts

Elementary Education = Master reading by third grade


He reverted to his regular form and encouraged students to lean on teachers for help and advice because those are the people who have helped him succeed. Interestingly, Peralez used Frederick Douglass, a slave turned abolitionist, as an example to make his next point: Douglass’s owner refused to let Douglass learn how to read and write. And he explained why: If Douglass learned how to read and write, he would understand he was being oppressed and he would want more. He would want to own a house. He’d want to be equal. He’d know he wasn’t being treated fairly.

“Education should be for everyone.”

Education should be for everyone, the councilmember stressed, and it should be fair. He wrapped up by urging the students to be passionate about their own education and research options that will give them a competitive edge.

The SJSU Community Engaged Learners

CommUniverCity is in the business of Community Engaged Learning. College Day presents an ideal opportunity for SJSU Students to be engaged in their local community while practicing skills learned in class sessions with Fearless Leader/Professor Sarah McGaffey. Fifty of Professor McGaffey’s Communications Studies students (mainly Freshmen) developed persuasive, pay-it-forward presentations using public speaking skills. In this case, the community is Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and its first graduating senior class since it opened four years ago.

Thanks to Cristo Rey faculty and staff, and Professor McGaffey’s community engaged learners, College Day 2017 reached the entire Cristo Rey school community via 17 group presentations throughout the day. Per Director of University Access and Success, Todd Hicks,

“These near-peer encounters provided wonderful opportunities for our first senior class to get advice on how to make a successful transition to college.”

Here are some of the highlights and quotes from the presentations:

The Passionate Ones

College Day started seven years ago with a volunteer committee comprised of members from the education industry. These members are as active as they can be. Some stay and some go but the goal has always remained the same:  open doors, create a buzz and spark conversations about the attainability of college all on the same day. The activities to meet this goal have evolved over time. It started with classroom speakers, then a weekend conference the following year, then resource fairs, then celebrating College WEEK, and so much more. Also over the course of time, teachers have become more active participants in College Day whether it’s preparing their students to ask questions of the speaker or leveraging parents to be speakers in their classrooms. There is no correct way to celebrate College Day. There are no barriers.

This year, 116 teachers across 31 schools in Santa Clara County signed up to have a speaker share their college experience. Speakers in these classrooms reached nearly 3,000 students. These teachers and speakers are the passionate ones. They have opened the doors and chiseled some of the barriers. Because of them, students who have heard their stories will know that there is not one path to, or through, college. They may even pass along the story to their parents, their friends, and in the future, a classroom full of students on College Day.

By continuing to share college and success stories, we are emboldening students to stand up for themselves and to understand that they deserve fair treatment. Join the movement. Support our teachers. Inspire the future. Be a College Day Speaker.

Sign up to be a speaker

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