A Lucky Break
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
It is a great privilege to be in Vassar College. To have a room for myself, a cafeteria that’s a factory of underseasoned chicken, and an education that teaches me how to learn anything. One year of all this adds up to some unimaginably large figure that is about four times more money than I have seen in my lifetime. It is easy to conclude — I am lucky to be here.
Philippines, 1999. I was born 1 month early, 2 pounds underweight, into a family of 3 children. My first crib was an incubator. When my parents finally brought me home, marching like little soldiers above our bed was a line of black ants — a symbol of good luck and wealth. Logically then, to carry the family out of poverty became my responsibility at age 0.
We moved a lot when I was growing up. We lived in grandma’s spare room, and then in the annex of uncle’s house, and lastly in a government housing where people resettled from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, but one thing was a constant. We always shared one room — the same size as a dorm room in Vassar — among five people, packed like canned sardines. Mom provided us stability when she opened a sari-sari store (a sundry store) using loaned money. Life was good when canned sardines was on the table. It meant that we had extra money after restocking the store and paying the bills.
Among the five people in our household, nobody was a college graduate. The term “job
opportunity” was nothing but a mythical figure. Every once in a while, we would hear about an
opening without education requirements, two towns over, that pays less money than it takes to
get there. Just to get to the job, we would have to be bleeding money till our wage magically
doubles so that we may one day recoup the commuting cost. If only we pulled ourselves by the bootstraps twice as hard.
In the resettlement neighborhood, we were all working hard to break this cycle for our own families, but only a lucky few even got close to doing so. Every once in a while, someone wins jueteng (an illegal Chinese lottery); someone lands the job two towns over; someone gets into college, but they all stay in the projects. One lucky break was never enough to get them out. How could it?
My first lucky break was when my aunt told me about a prep school with 98% college placement. I had no money to buy a prep book for the entrance exam, so I pieced together a study guide from the internet. “Good luck!” was what my family told me as I went into the test center with a million other kids, all hopeful to get their families out. I may have gotten into the school and secured a future placement to college, but nothing changed my inability to pay for it. One lucky break was never enough to get me out. How could it?
My second lucky break was when my AP Literature teacher told me about QuestBridge. One heartfelt essay, and I got financial aid from Vassar College. My third lucky break was when my freshman roommate told me about a job opportunity that paid good money. One backbreaking summer, and I made more money than I ever had in 18 years of my life combined. My fourth lucky break was when a generous Vassar alumna sponsored my summer internship. One intellectually-challenging summer, and I found my passion for social impact work.
Social impact work is what I dedicate my time to. I am an officer in Vassar Challah for Hunger — we make, bake, sell challah; and donate our profit to a local food bank. Also, I am a student advocate for the Break Advisory Group — we work with the Vassar administration to communicate the food, housing, and health security needs of students. These days, I make sure to tell people about QuestBridge. These days, I make sure to tell people about job opportunities.
David is a Vassar College student, class of 2022. He is currently a computer science major interested in applying data engineering and entrepreneurship in his social impact work.