From Past, Present, and Beyond: My Berkeley Story

First-generation. Low-income. Student of color. I fit the common profile of an uncommon background of many Berkeley students. I grew up in a single-parent household with a mom that knew very little English. I knew nothing about college applications or financial aid. Statistically speaking, the odds should have been against my favor.

Thinking back to high school, I recall moments when I would hear friends and parents “look down” at my school. Why? My high school had often been regarded as “unsafe” due to the historic number of fights and police presence. My high school had often been regarded as a place you would not be able to succeed because we had historically ranked near the bottom in the school district. I remember how from middle school to high school, many of my peers transferred because their parents wanted to avoid sending them to my high school. I remember how after a district-wide awards ceremony hosted at my high school, my mom had told me how another parent had grudgingly complained how she felt so “unlucky” that her child had to attend my school. 

It is moments like these that made me ashamed to come from where I did and, at times, made me jealous of my friends who attended more “high achieving” schools in the district.

In my senior year, I was fortunate to have multiple admission offers to choose from. While there were factors to consider like location, campus size, degree programs, and prestige; what I valued in a college campus was the student experience. I sought out friends who were already attending the colleges I had been admitted to and get their authentic take on what their college experience had been like.

Story after story, the Berkeley Story is what stood out to me. My friend, who had graduated from my high school and was now attending UC Berkeley, treated me out to ice cream on a rainy day and I spent the afternoon in her car just listening about her college experience. While I don’t recall the specific details of her story, the energy and passion that radiated from her storytelling are what resonated most with me. I remember how her eyes lit up as she spoke about how Berkeley had changed her worldview. How she was able to learn from accomplished and award-winning professors. How she spoke so passionately and positively about Berkeley. How she had been inspired to use the power of her education to go back and do good in our community.

Jimmy enjoys his ice cream as he listens to his friend speak about her Berkeley experience.

While she didn’t know it at the time, she had inspired me to choose Berkeley with her story. At this moment in my life, I don’t know exactly what I want to do career-wise. However, I do know that I want to eventually pay forward the opportunities that I have been afforded. I want to use the power of my education to elevate my community that has so long been disregarded. I use my moments of being ashamed of where I came from and transforming them into moments of motivation to prove myself, to prove that people from my community can make it. As a Campus Ambassador, I often get to share my “Berkeley Story” of how I got here. Who would have thought that my friend’s Berkeley Story would translate to the creation of my own journey to UC Berkeley? This is my Berkeley Story.

As prospective students begin receiving their admission decisions and ponder about their next steps in life, I reflect on my own journey to Berkeley and the immense opportunities I have been given here thus far. I look at where I am today, attending the #1 public research institution in the world. Despite the odds stacked against me because of my background and supposed destiny to fail, I overcame the odds. And I didn’t do it alone. It was because of the people that have inspired me along the way, the people I have crossed paths with, the people that have been part of my support network.

Jimmy Nguyen

Author: Jimmy Nguyen

Hi there, I'm Jimmy! I am a sophomore studying Political Science with a minor in Public Policy. My hometown is San Jose, CA. Apart from my role as a Campus Ambassador, I am also involved in the ASUC, UC Rally Committee, and Vietnamese Student Association.