Johni Rose Zamorano in front of Hart Hall

Being an Educated Chicana | Part 1

Johni Rose Zamorano '22

Johni Rose Zamorano is a first-gen student majoring in English with an emphasis on creative writing and a minor in psychology. A senior and a transfer student, she is documenting the experience of having her first year on campus, which is also her last. For her, and about 1,500 other senior transfer students whose first year was remote, graduation is rushing towards them like a double-decker Unitrans bus.

Finding a Way to UC Davis

I’m still amazed that I made it here. 

For me, getting into Davis is a miraculous twist of fate. I was led purely by the drive to be an educated Latina.  I suppose that came from my grandmother; the glimmer in her eyes when she talks about the privilege of having an education is partly what drives me. She talks about being educated like most people talk about being a rock star. But I had no one to guide me on this journey in academia.

I started at Rio Hondo college in Southern California. I had no clue how to navigate the system but eventually learned by immersing myself in the college culture. I struggled with social anxiety and feelings of inadequacy because of my adverse life experiences but with the effort of inclusivity provided by my college, I soon broke past those barriers. As a re-entry transfer student it took me 4 years to get into UC Davis. Conquering a mathematical learning disability and overcoming the self-inflicting limiting lies that I would often tell myself. The odds of me coming here were very slim. 

By the 3rd year, I had founded my college’s first-ever hiking club, discovered the concept of academic renewal, and inserted myself in programs that nurtured my growth. It started off with Dianna Reyes in the EOP office referring me to the Inter-Club Council department in the Student Union building to discover a flyer for the Student Leadership Institute which offered a certificate program that helped me define my leadership style. The more I put myself out there the more things kept happening. I spent weeks in the transfer center to get every sporadic question answered during the application process. I knew nothing. 

I almost didn’t apply to Davis because my confidence was nil and the distance from my family terrified me. But I did so anyway, and that changed the trajectory of my life.

Transferring in the Remote Year

In my first year at UC Davis I felt disconnected from the much-anticipated college experience that I had been working towards and had craved, I felt a sense of loss. I considered taking a gap year but felt that there was no time to waste. I was already 31. I reassured myself that sacrificing a full year on the UC Davis campus was worth it for my future. I was still receiving a world-class education. 

I was confused by the world of digital instruction: the hidden files within files labeled differently by each instructor, where to access tutoring, keeping up with the discussion boards. The impersonal nature of the entire process broke me down in that first quarter. My health deteriorated due to being sedentary. In retrospect, a lot of it is a blur but I made it and I truthfully cannot tell you how, exactly.

Getting to Campus

By week two of in-person instruction symptoms of imposter syndrome would reemerge. Getting lost, discovering new parts of my school, I look around and notice clusters of people I do not identify with. They all seem to have direction and confidence. I made a decision to put myself out there and shed any self-doubt or shame. I knew that if I let those emotions control me, I wouldn’t evolve in the ways needed for me to succeed. Risking embarrassment from simply not knowing is part of the process. Getting here was only part of the battle because the next battle was facing the reality that I only had 2 months to apply for graduate school for the following fall. Hearing mysterious words like fellowship, stipend, CV’s, letter of intent. Honest to goodness I had never heard these words spoken in my entire humble existence. 

Once again, back to knowing nothing. Still, I will keep pushing forward, hoping to be an inspiration to all first-gen students. Follow my journey as we bring the first-gen graduation rate up together.

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