08/10/2011 09:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2011

You Won't Be Alone

There were no nerves. Only anxiety. Growing, ballooning anxiety, gnawing at my feet, insisting on crawling through my legs and into my head. I felt small, insignificant and confused inside. I knew there was something I was forgetting.

That's how things went the first few days at the University of Colorado. Learning inside those chestnut-colored buildings in Boulder was oddly intimidating.

My parents, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1980s, never received the opportunity to attend college, so I relied completely on the stories of high school teachers to get a sense of how this college business worked.

When the time came to utilize this knowledge, I stumbled.

One of my first classes was held inside a hall in the Duane Physics building on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Stadium seating for up to 250 people, giant white projection screens and a large rectangular experiment table adorned this hall of learning.

That first class was all adrenaline. I sat bewildered. I think I looked around the giant room more often than I did at the speaking professor. My eyes were probing for a familiar hue; I felt like the only brown face in a colossal room teeming with eager freshmen.

Attending high school in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver located 40 minutes from the CU campus, offered me a town with a rich mixture of cultural and ethnic diversity. Now I trekked on plane that appeared to be another world. Yet even before stepping foot on campus I was aware of the lack of ethnic diversity at CU. It was common knowledge. Almost like a running joke: there are no students of color at CU, especially Latinos.

I wanted to change that. Still do. But there is a certain level of shock no amount of statistics or numbers can prepare a person to experience. When this giant class assembled inside Duane, I felt lost as the magnitude of this entire reality descended on the room and crashed into my feet, gnawing.

I felt alone.

Eager to conquer this sensation, I sought after students who looked like me or even remotely like me. When I found them, we talked about our anxieties, of the culture shock of arriving to a place where we were truly the minority and where culture was celebrated but seldom seen outside campus.

Those students, turned friends by similar circumstances, are important.

I feel fortunate now. Truly fortunate for these friends, who are brown, black, white or at times gold (think CU football games). Their friendship is proof of a common motto taught by a scholarship program at CU that now rings true about college: No one does it alone.

I won't be alone. And neither will you. Find those people. Embrace the camaraderie. Develop those friendships. Remember those feelings during the first week of class, but more importantly, remember to practice what I was forgetting to do: breathe.
This adventure depends on it.

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