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Two students write about their futures

I have two guest columnists today, Patricia and Luis. Their teacher, Michael L. Conners, introduced me to their work. They cannot use their last names here because both are in the United States illegally.

Conners was an English as a Second Language teacher at the Columbia Heights Education Center in the District, a public secondary school previously known as Bell Multicultural High School, when he taught these students. In 2008, his class submitted essays to NPR's "This I Believe" radio program. None were selected for broadcast, but Conners thought they represented good examples of student writing and sent them to me.

Both of these essays were influenced by the students' research into the laws that restrict their access to college financial aid. Both are entering their senior year, and college is on their minds.

I thought this would be an opportunity to show the level of writing for students at an urban high school whose Advanced Placement English program I have often praised. I don't take sides on the issue they raise, but I am interested in how well they raise it. Conners will be teaching at the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in the District this year. He can be reached at

Different But Equal

I believe that every human being is equal, no matter our culture, language or race. We all have something special inside us and that’s what makes us unique. As a result, I believe that undocumented people and students are as equal as American natives. They should have the right to go to college just as every other student does.

I’m an immigrant who believes that we came to the United States to improve our lives, but at the same time, improve American’s lives by our hard work. I came here to study and in that way to offer a good future for me and my family. However, it frightens me to think that undocumented students may not get access to college just because of their legal status. I believe that it’s wrong to set such restrictions because we are just looking for a better life. We’re not criminals and even when some of our people do certain things that ruin our reputation, we still deserve to be treated as equals.

Every time I hear about undocumented students not having the right to study, I wonder what are we going to do if we have neither the economic nor the political support of the country we are living in. It’s just not fair because we do not want to have the same jobs that our parents have like cleaning or working in a restaurant until 3 a.m. We want to make a change in our community and show others what we are able to do and why we came here. I think that Latinos are able to do many things that people might not think we could do, such as graduating from college and maybe even becoming president.

I believe that people should not discriminate against us for where we come from or who we are. We are just people trying to get help and help others to show how powerful we can be, and in that way, get the right to study and go to college and make our dreams come true. This is what keeps me studying and believing that one day Latinos will rise from others.

Every Latino is different, but at the same time, we have something in common which is the pride we have in being Latinos — extremely hard workers -- and for that, I believe that the access to college and other opportunities shouldn’t be restricted to us. I’m proud of being who I am and for that I believe we’re only one of a kind: different but equal.

-- Patricia

My Persuasive Dreams

I believe that all my dreams can come true. I believe that I can face any challenge that comes through. Anything can be possible if fairness resides in our lives, but nothing will be possible if we don’t change many people’s minds.

My young life is full of dreams. I dream to be a professional and famous musician; dream to be a poet and change many people’s lives with my poems, dream to be a person who gives a reflective and persuasive moral. Therefore, I believe that the world should be free and that everybody should study wherever they want and whatever they want.

As hard workers and students, we “ALIENS,” as many people call us, deserve the opportunity to have a chance, but people don’t want to open their minds. Those who discriminate against us have never experienced what it feels to cross a big piece of unforgiving land where many people die for the American Dream and the wanting of a better life.

My personal experience is not as heartbreaking as many other people. But still, the dreams I have seem frustrated because wherever I go, I am an illegal person. However, my hopes support my heart and tell me that no matter if I’m an immigrant, dreams will follow me and as every legal person, I have the right to let them come true.

I came to United States, and the country didn’t seem as beautiful as I thought when I was in El Salvador. I learned that when my mom came here it was because she needed a better life in order to give better lives to my brother and me. Now, I’m just finishing ninth grade and as I am getting to the tenth grade, I’m starting to think about how I am going to pay for my college. Many people don’t want immigrant people to go to college. They want to restrict their opportunity to show their talents and desires to be good citizens for the nation. Yet, if I wouldn’t have come to this country, I wouldn’t be able to start taking actions to make my dreams true.

I am here because in my country I don’t have the open and extended opportunity to make my dreams come true. Now, those opportunities seem tainted for the fact that I am an illegal immigrant and I think that it’s not fair. It’s not fair because the rights that every American student has should be the same for everyone who wants a chance to educate themselves.

In reflection, I think that everybody should be fair and have compassion for the people who come to this country. Instead of making their lives more difficult, help them. Maybe not in the economic aspect, but at least by not discriminating against them. Help them to get a good education as everyone deserves. Help them to be good citizens and reach their dreams. This I believe.

-- Luis

By Jay Mathews  | August 12, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  AP program, Columbia Heights Education Center, formerly Bell Multicultural High School, high school student essays, illegal immigrants  
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