After attending Wellesley College (located 12 miles west of Boston, MA) for my first year, it’s great to be back home. My name is Xueying Chen. I am a daughter of two Chinese immigrant parents and a Cohort IV Rainier Scholar.
Like other Rainier Scholars, I received an invitation to learn more about the program in fifth grade. My first reaction was skepticism. “Dad, that’s junk mail. Just throw it away,” I said. The program sounded too good, like a scam.
When a friend confirmed that Rainier Scholars was real, I was scared that my parents had thrown the invitation away. Even in fifth grade, I had a gut feeling that I needed this program. To this day, I’m more grateful than ever that my parents held on to the letter. I don’t know where I would be if they hadn’t and I don’t want to know.
During the 14 months after fifth grade, I entered the Academic Enrichment Phase of the program. I complained of giving up summers and Saturday cartoons during the school year in exchange for four extra classes and three to five hours of homework daily. But along the way, I gained so much more. I joined a community of students, parents, teachers and leaders who wanted to close the achievement gap. I made friends who understood that an education would give us opportunities that our parents never had.
It was the community that stayed with me as I took the Accelerated Program or AP track at Garfield High School in Seattle. While Garfield is a public inner city school, there aren’t many students of color in the AP track. It proves to me even more why a program like Rainier Scholars needs to exist.
I spoke about the lack of racial diversity with other Scholars at Garfield. Being the only person of a different race from everyone else in the room is a rare experience, but some of my friends had to experience this every day. It’s discouraging and unsettling.
For me, it wasn’t exactly race but a combination of my immigrant background and socioeconomic class. There is extra pressure to succeed, to represent our families and our communities.
Some of that pressure comes my parents because they don’t want me to worry about money. But the rest of that pressure stems from the idea that I am a role model and representative for other bright and hardworking low-income students of color. If I misbehave or fail, I’m afraid it would decrease the opportunities future Scholars and students of color would have.
That pressure continues past high school, especially at the best colleges in the nation.
Being a Rainier Scholar has allowed me to turn that pressure into inspiration. Being a student of color and of a lower socioeconomic class gives me a different perspective, strength and a resourcefulness to succeed. I’ve made it to Wellesley College, despite my immigrant background, despite the fact that my parents never attended college and I plan to achieve so much more.
Before I end this post, I want to know if any of our readers have felt similar pressures to succeed. If so, succeed in what? How do you deal with that pressure?