When my father was 17 he had to drop out of high school to work in the field to help his family pay for the necessities of life. It was a selfless act that left him forever removed from the opportunity of earning his high school diploma and pursuing a college education. While his choice was a meant to be a short-term solution to help his family, this was a decision that would have long-term detrimental effects on his ability to move up the socioeconomic ladders of society.
When I was just six years old, I made a different choice in hopes of creating a legacy that my father never got the chance to do: to seize the education opportunities present to me at the moment, and make the most of these opportunities so that I could become the first in my family to attend and graduate from college.
It's important to note that not all things always go according to plan. But it's essential to remember that despite the many bumps there are on the road to achieving your goal, there are always mentors and individuals willing to help you blaze a trail and follow your plan. In my case, one person was my mother. She consistently played an invaluable role in my education. She always ensured that I was dropped of at the bus stop on time; she made sure I followed through on my commitments; and she never stopped urging me to grasp the best educational opportunities we could. It was for these reasons why I was ultimately accepted into a magnet program starting in the 5th grade.
At this point, the quality of education I was able to receive helped me flourish. In middle school I was funneled into the Pre International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program and then fully immersed in I.B. courses when I was at Franklin High School. In high school I took on a full class schedule with every single course equivalent to that of an AP level curriculum, in addition to completing many volunteer hours. I also completed assignments on top of my normal coursework that would allow me to receive the I.B. diploma along with my high school diploma when I graduated.
Like most high school students all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends and excel in my sport without the burden of excessive academic responsibilities. With this teenage ambition in mind I petitioned my parents to allow me to drop out of the program citing a multitude of reasons, one of which being that I didn't need the program to get into college because I would receive an athletic scholarship at a school of my choice.
Gratefully, my parents were there to remind me of my ultimate plan through their simple yet profound aspiration that I receive a high-quality education. Their wisdom kept me on track in spite of the shortsightedness I exhibited, and reminded me that I would only be bolstered through receiving my education.
In short, my Mom and Dad did not let me drop out of the I.B. program, and in hindsight it was a wise decision because even when I was cut from the intercollegiate men's soccer team during my sophomore year, the emphasis my parents placed on my education throughout my life allowed me to make the transition into truly focusing on a future for myself where soccer was not a priority.
Today, I am a 22-year-old first generation Mexican-American citizen who is the first person in family to graduate from college. And I reflect the fastest growing demographic in this country - the demographic within a city that needs the opportunity structure to work for them the most.
Things didn't go according to plan exactly as I'd envisioned, but having a plan was critical in helping me see a future for myself at age six, and age 17 when I was applying for colleges, and at age 19 when I was cut from the soccer team and thought my life was over.
It's this lesson that I try to impart whenever I mentor students in programs like the Summer Success and Leadership Academy in my hometown of Stockton, California. Every child has a limitless potential, but they often lack the opportunities they need to be successful. I remind them that even though the hill they face is steep, that they have to consistently have their eyes on the prize; that it is critical to have a goal in mind and have a plan in place for reaching this goal. Things may not always go according to plan, but they should seek out people along the way to help them get there.
I'm thankful of the relentless support of my parents and "iron friends" that helped sharpen me along my journey, for their support has manifested within me a deep commitment to help creating new ladders of opportunity in this nation. It's this reason why I am proud to be a part of Opportunity Nation's mission to create a shared agenda to restore opportunity in America.
This post is part of a series produced by Opportunity Nation for The Huffington Post in conjunction with their Week of Action, a seven-day collaborative exercise demonstrating that every American can play a role in the shared effort to restore opportunity and social mobility in our country. More information is available at Opportunity Nation.