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How a Fil-Am's tough past helped her get into Harvard

Connie Macatula-DeLeon, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at May 19 2016 06:23 PM

CHICAGO, Illinois – A Harvard-bound Pinay credits her single-working mother who overcame poverty and the dangers of the streets to help her achieve her college dreams.

Now, 18-year-old Maria De Leon’s Harvard dream has come true.

“I didn’t think, in a million years, that I would. Coz who gets into Harvard?” she said.

She came to the US from the Philippines at 6 years old, did not speak English, and did not have money. Maria, together with nine other relatives, squeezed themselves into a one-bedroom apartment, because they could not afford their own home.

Maria admitted that growing up was tough. When she was 10, her single mother Jojit, who was walking home from work one night, was attacked by a drunk bystander who attempted to rape her.

“At 10, it was traumatizing but I took it as a challenge, to be better,” she said.

Little did she know that this dark chapter in her past would be the key to her bright future. She submitted an essay to Harvard about her mother’s life-threatening experience that read: “The drive to give my mom retribution burns hot in my gut, and I know only success can extinguish the fire. My mother’s face carries the mark of my adulthood.”

Maria’s mother, who did not know about her daughter’s essay, said a person can only fight his or her own battles.

“Hindi ako pwedeng defeated. Hindi ako pwedeng mawala na lang ng ganon ganon,” her mother said.

Because of the high tuition fee, which ranges between $ 67,000 and $ 72,000 a year, Maria’s only hope was to get a scholarship. Not only did she get a full scholarship, she was also awarded a $ 10,000 grant.

“I feel very proud as a Pinay to represent my country. You can succeed here no matter what background you came from,” she said.

Maria has advice for kababayans especially those who are going through challenges in their lives.

“Don’t cut yourself off at the roots. They’re cutting themselves even before they begin. There are more people who can get accepted at Harvard. The only thing that’s stopping them is that they didn’t apply in the first place. You have nothing to lose when you just try,” she said.

Read more on Balitang America.

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