Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

My First Year at Harvard My First Year at Harvard

This ad will end in seconds
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation


The Next America | Perspectives / My View

My First Year at Harvard

Born in Guadalajara, Felipe Sepulveda Jr., admits the academic environment in Cambridge is "a stark contrast" to his Anaheim high school.

Says Sepulveda, born in Mexico and raised in California: "I think its important for first-generation students to set a college-bound trend of succeeding so that the second generation and so on can follow this trend." He is a sophomore at Harvard.(Kevin Roche)

November 7, 2013

Felipe Sepulveda moved to America as a toddler; he didn't speak English when he entered kindergarten. A fast learner, he was the "first kid in the class to count to 100," and entering high school, he was admitted to a California bridge program, the Puente Project, which aims to get more poor, mostly Latino, youth to college.

Last autumn, Sepulveda, now 19, entered Harvard University. Before he left his Anaheim neighborhood for the hallowed grounds of Cambridge, Mass., Next America featured him in an article about English as the common denominator in a melting-pot nation (Univision also profiled him on its Fusion blog). Here are some insights into his experience.

This interview, conducted by Jody Brannon, has been edited for length and clarity.


The Harvard community, from my experience as an undergraduate, is a very open and welcoming one. I have not felt any issues with my economic and ethnic background. There are also many Latinos here at the college that I interact with and am friends with.

The highlight is being in a better academic environment than the one I had at my old high school—having so many resources at my disposal, amazing/interesting courses, professors that are leaders in their field, and interacting with so many brilliant students and roommates. The downside is mainly just being homesick and missing my family dearly. I didn't go back home until winter break, and it had been the longest amount of time I spent away from home.

The environment at Harvard is remarkably different and a stark contrast to what was available to me at my high school. The workload and academic environment is intense compared to what I was used to. I ended up doing well and adjusted to the academics within a few weeks.

I think that it would've been much better for me if I had been challenged more in high school with my workload, difficulty of courses, amount of reading assigned. I wish I would've taken more math as well. I would recommend [the Puente program] assign more reading and writing in the English classes—and greatly encourage the students to take the hardest classes offered at school.

After my first year, my goals have changed. When I started college, I wanted to do law school. I am now leaning toward getting my master's degree in either business or public administration. I am majoring in economics and minoring in government.

Over the summer, I did two internships. One was a public administration internship for the city of Anaheim in which I got to work for the city administration, specifically the city manager's office. I also did a month-long fellowship in California's capital of Sacramento. I worked with state Assembly members on the policymaking process. Specifically, I interned for the office of state Assembly member Tom Daly, who represents the 69th District. He's a great guy.

I loved going back home. I really like being at Harvard, but I got homesick during the first semester, so it felt great to be back home with friends and family. My father is still a truck driver. My mother is now trying to get a job to help my father out. My younger sister now has very high aspirations for college, in large part because she has seen me succeed, and she also wants to go to Harvard. My older sister is now a manager at the movie theater where she has been working. She has not gone back to school.

I think that it's unfortunate that fellow Latinos aren't following my path in larger numbers. I think it's important that there be a larger focus on the Latino community in the United States. We are a large and growing component of the population, and something should be done to get more of us in college.

I think it's important for first-generation students to set a college-bound trend of succeeding so that the second generation and so on can follow this trend. In that sense, I feel like we can play a vital role in the Next America, as opposed to occupying low-paying jobs. I feel that being educated, there is a lot we can contribute to this great country.


Are you part of the demographic that is the Next America? Are you a catalyst who fosters change for the next generation? Or do you know someone who is? The Next America welcomes first-person perspectives from activists, thought leaders and people representative of a diverse nation. Email us. And please follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Job Board
Search Jobs
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
Fire Sprinkler Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Charlotte, NC
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Deputy Director of Transit Operations
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Jose, CA
Transportation Planner
American Society of Civil Engineers | Salinas, CA
Assistant Professor - Water Resources/Ecological Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Auburn, AL
Product Manager - Chemical Development and Supply - Tulsa, OK
American Society of Civil Engineers | Tulsa, OK
Commissioning Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Chicago, IL
Assessment and Remediation Team Lead
American Society of Civil Engineers | Regina, SK
Business Development Manager
American Society of Civil Engineers
Sr. Controls Systems Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Grand Island, NE
Senior Project Manager- Transportation
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Antonio, TX
Materials Engineer 2
American Society of Civil Engineers | IL
Land Surveyor
American Society of Civil Engineers
Quality Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Attica, IN
comments powered by Disqus