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Esteban L. Hernandez Headshot

You Won't Be Alone

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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.