THE BLOG

From Obstacle to Opportunity

04/22/2014 06:59 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2014
  • Denis Nolasco Student Life Specialist, City University of New York

It was a sweltering day in the hot Dominican sun. "Dena," my mother shouted -- both melodically, yet piercingly -- to inform me that dinner was set. It was a mangu-and-fried-cheese kind of dinner, a typical Dominican dish. I waltzed into the kitchen and turned on the television, a common addition to our nightly meals. The voice of the political commentator droned through the speakers, reporting nonchalantly that many Dominican families lacked running water and electricity. His apathy was apparent, and it angered me. I thought to myself, one day I will change this. Somewhere in the future, I would be a part of protecting basic human rights for the disenfranchised.

That moment finally arrived in May of 2005 when I earned a coveted internship at the United Nations. While attending an international youth symposium at the UN, I made a promise to myself that I would not leave until I had secured a job that would allow me to continue the work I had just begun in international human rights.

In between presentations and events, I lobbied countless panelists. Each time their responses were the same: I was not eligible because I did not have an advanced degree. Their words, while cutting, did not stop me. I had one more card left and I was determined to play it! I placed a final call to the last panelist I had met that day, Hanifa Mezoui, Chief of the Non-governmental Organization of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. While at first she was caught off guard, Hanifa saw my passion and commitment to international social justice and admired my persistence in spite of not having the credentials others demanded. She saw that even that could not hinder my dream. I was offered an internship that same day -- the first of many -- which helped me to continue my path towards understanding and promoting international social justice.

I have been fortunate enough to secure most of the opportunities that I have sought after. However, while pursuing my dream of becoming a lawyer, I was confronted with the harsh reality that I was not always going to get everything I wanted.

After studying for the Law School Admission Exams, I was disappointed with my score, but decided to apply anyway. I waited months for word back from the 12 schools I had applied to, only to find out that I did not get into any of the Ivy Leagues. Disappointed and sad, I fell into my usual trap comparing myself to my peers, who had been admitted into Ivy League schools. I, on the other hand, was rejected from nine. How could I be proud of this?

I had faced rejection once before when I applied for a Fulbright to do research in Spain. I lacked the financial resources or the key contacts to arrange for this endeavor and was turned down.

I remember the rejection being traumatic and feeling that my desire to travel before law school would now be impossible.

Shortly after, I met with a friend and told her how disappointed I was in myself for not securing the fellowship. She told me not to despair and used a common Dominican phrase, "No hay mal que por bien no venga" -- meaning that all bad experiences come to our lives for a good reason. I held on to that as if it were my life vest. A few weeks later, while looking into other opportunities, I came across the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Fellowship. Through this program, I was offered a full-time position that required me to travel internationally to help implement social justice programs. I looked back at the rejection from Fulbright and understood that it was for the best.

This past month, I attended the VotoLatino Power Summit Conference, and took part in a panel devoted to discussing and redefining success. Arianna Huffington's own story about overcoming personal obstacles on the road to success reminded me that obstacles can sometimes be opportunities in disguise. My law school journey was challenging but it has reinforced my belief that things in life happen for a reason.

This fall I will begin law school at a great institution with a generous scholarship. I do not know what doors are going to open for me next, but I know that I am where I am supposed to be. I am on my way to becoming who I am supposed to be -- an attorney.