Wilbert De Leon '20
B.A. Communication, B.A. Economics - Behavior and Strategy Emphasis
This stole is a symbol of my perseverance, grit, and determination to meet my goals — an artifact to display on my wall for years to look at and tell myself, "I did that."
My first-gen story does not start with me. It starts with my parents.
My parents immigrated to California from the Philippines seeking a better life and a fresh start. They were able to raise a family in Hercules, a Bay Area suburb. But this new life came at a great cost: They faced racism and discrimination, and they worked their bodies to the bone in blue-collar jobs to support our family. We had just enough money to get by.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I asked my parents the $121,104 question: “Can I go to university?”
They looked at each other, smiled sadly, and answered, “We want you to. Pero, ang mahal.” (“But it’s expensive.”)
My parents had done everything they could to ensure that I could reach American culture’s definition of achievement and success. They took me to and from school every day, made sure I had clothes to wear, and always supported me in my studies. In turn, I worked very hard, staying after school until 8:30pm for my extracurricular activities and then studying until well after midnight. When my parents arrived home from work in the dark hours of the morning, they would often tell me, “Tulog na, may pasok ka bukas.” (“Go sleep, you have school tomorrow.”)
I was an ambitious, selfless, determined seventeen-year-old with high hopes of going to college. I felt confident that I could make an impact on the world and those around me, and I had dreams of tackling high-level issues like homelessness and poverty. But we only had a few thousand dollars saved, and I feared that attending a university would cost much more than that.
I thought to myself, “How can I help people face these issues if I can’t even help myself right now?”
It was frightening experiencing an early-life crisis at the age of 18.
I didn’t want to give up, so I had to ask for help. There were nights I broke down and did not know what to do anymore because I was overwhelmed with the stress of trying to secure financial aid, but my high school advisors supported me and encouraged me to keep going. I applied for the FAFSA, hoping to receive enough financial aid to attend college. After months of waiting, I finally received a letter in blue and gold colors saying ‘Congratulations!’ and learned that attending UC Davis would be affordable for my family. I saw a new path open up.
My first year of college certainly wasn’t easy. I had never felt a stronger case of “imposter syndrome,” failure, and detachment. My thoughts often strayed to, “Did I really earn my accomplishments? Am I ‘smart’? I thought I aced this midterm — how did I fail? Who are my real friends? Why does everyone seem like they know what they are doing? I don’t get it.” It was frightening experiencing an early-life crisis at the age of 18.
Then I realized that college was not really a new path that I had opened, but a door leading to a mirror revealing a reflection of myself. Through that mirror, I embarked on a journey of understanding myself and challenging my past beliefs, becoming curious about the unknown, and learning how to listen with the intent to learn rather than to respond. It was a journey of self-growth and discovery.
I have graduated from UC Davis during a pandemic that has turned the world inside out. New jobs are scarce. Nothing is as we expected it to be. Looking back, I’ve realized that I learned one more critical lesson: Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I joined the Economics and Business Student Association, I had zero experience working in teams, minimal public speaking and presentation skills, and an uncertain sense in business acumen. Two years later, I assisted in planning one of the largest events for EBSA, where I presented to C-level executives by developing marketing plans and pitching student-made products for our entrepreneurship case competitions.
I am proud of how far I have come, and I am grateful to my parents every day for the values they taught me that have helped me succeed. From teaching me how to brush my teeth, to reminding me to always treat people with respect, and even taking hours of their time after working 10+ hour night shifts to develop a plan for funding my academic ambitions, they have supported me from the very beginning. I feel extremely lucky to have the best parents I can get in this world.
My name is Wilbert, and this is my story.
- Story by Wilbert De Leon and Hailey Chatterton