As a naturally quiet person, it was easy for me to be overlooked in the classroom when I was younger. Although I was born in the United States, I spent my childhood in a Tibetan exile community in India and only knew a few words of English when I moved to Denver as a fourth grader. Throughout elementary and middle school, I put minimal effort into school and my grades reflected this. My social life didn’t help; as one of only a few people of color in my middle school, I often felt isolated and alone.
But when I came to Peak to Peak Charter School for ninth grade, hiding was no longer an option. With small classes and teachers who were committed to helping me succeed, I couldn’t get away with not trying. The passion of my Peak to Peak math and science teachers was infectious, and I fell in love with these two subjects. I was determined to not only catch up to my peers, but dig deeper into my learning. And, my teachers encouraged me to keep going beyond the ninth grade curriculum into more difficult courses.
Once I started focusing on school, I was finally able to make friends. My peers at Peak to Peak also cared about doing well academically so I had a natural connection with my fellow students. The diversity of Peak to Peak helped too, as I was able to relate to the other kids, many of whom were also from immigrant families who had experienced economic hardship.
As I continued to take math and science classes, I became excited to aim for a college degree in engineering, a goal that my parents could have only dreamed of pursuing. Peak to Peak supported my path by offering college-level math courses not available at many high schools, such as multivariable calculus and differential equations.
I could have easily kept a narrow focus on math and science, but my Peak to Peak teachers emphasized that reading and writing are essential in every aspect of life, no matter what career I have as an adult. They helped me realize that the goal of education is more than just the content of what I am learning, it’s about the skills and habits of mind that I take away.
That’s why I’ve made an effort to broaden my learning by taking AP courses in English composition, literature, and geography. Additionally, I joined Peak to Peak’s National Science Honor Society so I could give back to the community by tutoring younger students who need extra help in math and science.
As I prepare to graduate from Peak to Peak and go to the University of Colorado Boulder I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic novel from the 1920s explores the theme of class distinction in America through the life of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire who is looked down upon by others who were born with wealth and status.
This theme is still relevant today, as there is still a gap between my reality as a first-generation college student and that of my affluent peers. Thanks to my hard work, I’ve been able to earn a partial scholarship that will help fund my education at CU. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents, friends, and teachers for their support and encouragement, and would never want to trade places with anyone else.
While The Great Gatsby ends by looking to the past, I am gazing forward and optimistic about my future. By earning a degree in chemical or aerospace engineering, I hope to solve some of the world’s most difficult challenges, such as how to explore other planets or make renewable energy a viable option on a large scale.
The reality is that there are thousands of other first-generation immigrant students like me who have the drive and ambition to get to and through college but lack the resources to make it possible. Let’s find a way to broaden access to a variety of quality school options that give lifelong opportunities to all of Colorado’s high school graduates so that, in the years ahead, they too, can shoot for the moon and beyond.
Osel Carlek is a first-generation graduating senior at Peak to Peak Charter School, going on to study engineering at University of Colorado at Boulder next fall.