“I didn't know what to do or how to, so I just enrolled in the nearest community college,” says Malena Avila. Although she grew up in Southern California, there was no one within her circle with whom she could discuss higher education, and it was not until she attended El Camino College that she came into contact with information on the topic. Despite financial obstacles and little support, she was resolute about earning a degree and subsequently transferred to the University of California San Diego, where she completed her bachelor’s in Political Science with a minor in Urban Studies and Planning.
When she became a mother, she made the decision to sacrifice a career in order to raise her children, now 22, 20 and 13, to ensure that they had every opportunity to succeed. “I read to them when I was pregnant with them; I sat and read with them (as small children); I sat by their sides when they were learning to read and write and get number sense, “ she recalls, “and when they got older, we read the same books. Being college educated myself I knew how to better prepare them.”
Knowing that all of her children have academic potential and can “reach farther” than she did, she has worked hard to help them succeed and is determined that all will go to college. Her youngest daughter is in middle school; her older daughter, currently working to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution, and her son, an HSF Scholar and senior at Princeton University, where he is pursuing a BA in Economics.
She recalls a time when her eldest daughter said she wanted to be a florist. “I told her she didn't need a degree for that, but that she should study business,” Malena says, adding, “I wanted her to be self-sufficient, financially, so I still urged her to pursue a degree.” Her daughter no longer wants to be a florist and is on the path to a college degree.
For the most part, Malena says her children have listened to her advice. She was resolute that each of them would go to college, and although they didn’t always share her view, she says they trusted her, and she believes this has played a large part in their success, to date.
Thinking of her own decision to let her son move across the country to attend Princeton and pursue his dreams, she urges other parents to do likewise: “Give them wings to go where they want to go, even if it is far away.”