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Rural Born, Stanford Educated, Obligated

[imgbelt img=lisagraduatestanford530.jpg]There’s another story to tell about low-income rural students and their potential for achievement at top universities. Nobody tells it better than the graduates themselves.

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Elite Colleges Struggle to Recruit Smart, Low Income Kids,” the students Francisco Guajardo wrote about February 12 in the Daily Yonder. 

I also saw the comment Ian Akers left on the Yonder, and a few days afterward, participated on a Skype call between Ian and several staff members of Llano Grande, the community education organization Guajardo founded in South Texas, where I grew up. Over time, and with the prompting of these latest experiences, I have come to realize a few things  about my beginnings, my education, and subsequent achievements.

I am a proud graduate of Stanford University and an even prouder alumna of the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development.  As a teenager, I was first introduced to the teachings of Dr. Francisco Guajardo in his history class at Edcouch-Elsa High School, then one of the poorest school districts in Texas.  I would not truly appreciate what I learned through the Center’s pedagogical practices until I was a student at a prestigious institution that challenged me to question my identity. I understand and believe wholeheartedly in the work that the Llano Grande Center performs in building community, valuing individuals, and helping tell the counter-narrative.  I am living proof that a rural, Mexicana can successfully graduate from a prominent, private university and return home with an acute sense of self and a deep obligation to pay it forward to a community that gave so much to me.

It is all about community.

The Missing ‘One-Offs,’” a teenager at Edcouch-Elsa or another rural school like ours has limited opportunity to be in contact with students from the Ivy League or other nationally-ranked, research institutions. I would not have known where to begin the application process had it not been for my mentors who allowed me to dream big and handed me the application.  I had never heard of Stanford University when I first picked up its viewbook. But the social capital that had been built in my community in the years before I graduated from high school allowed me to tap the knowledge base, experience, and advocacy-impulses of those around me; I was fortunate to have access to that capital.  

Institutions like Stanford cannot expect rural students to know about them simply because they are nationally-recognized and ranked.  Top colleges and universities have an obligation to seek out the best and the brightest from around the world, not solely from select urban areas.  But if Stanford and other prestigious schools do not change their methods of recruitment, then rural communities have to learn for themselves how local students can apply and stand the best chances of being admitted and succeeding; they have to build their own social and cultural capital. It is not easy to do—has not been easy for us—but it is a goal worth pursuing. It begins with an awareness that the effort is necessary and worthwhile. 

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