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.

Felipe Sepulveda, orn in Guadalajara and raised in Anaheim, Calif., is the first in his immigrant family to attend college. He entered Harvard in autumn 2012.
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Felipe Sepulveda Jr.
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Felipe Sepulveda Jr.
Nov. 6, 2013, 11:59 p.m.

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.


Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
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