By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Last year, after Bernice Ramirez’s mother separated from her partner, the whole family had to move to Tijuana in order to survive economically. For several months, Bernice had to wake up at 4 a.m. to commute from Tijuana to La Jolla, where she is a senior at Preuss School at UCSD.
After school, Bernice had to wait for her mother Vianey to come out from her night classes at City College. Then they would return home in Tijuana around 11 p.m.
“It was pretty hard,” said Bernice, who would usually spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for her mother at Barrio Logan College Institute, a college preparation program, where she would do her homework and participate in extracurricular activities.
But the lack of sleep and the long hours outside her house, affected Bernice’s academic performance.
“My grades dropped a little bit,” she said. “I knew I could be doing better, but it is so difficult when you’re not at home.”
Nevertheless, Bernice never gave up.
Just like she had overcome all the adversities she had faced in her life, such as growing up without ever knowing her father and in a barrio where it is more common for young people to join gangs than to finish high school, Bernice was able to pull things together and managed to maintain a high grade point average in school.
After a few months, her mother was able to afford moving back to San Diego.
It was because of Bernice’s character and dedication that she was selected as a recipient of a prestigious $10,000 scholarship in a nationwide competition from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
After doing a scholarship search online, Bernice identified with the Alger Association’s mission “of honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals in our society who have succeeded in spite of adversity and of encouraging young people to pursue their dreams through higher education” and immediately applied.
That was last December. A couple of weeks ago, Bernice received a called telling her she had won.
“I couldn’t believe it. When they called me, I was in class, so they left a message. After I listened to the message, I had to keep on replaying it on and on in order to realize it was true,” said Bernice, who’s 16 years old and will be graduating from high school in June.
Bernice plans to use her scholarship to pursue a degree in Cognitive Sciences at one of the universities she is currently applying to, including Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, and Duke.
“I feel really good. I’ve received a lot of support from a lot of people,” Bernice said.
One of those people is Jennie Lange, high school program coordinator at Barrio Logan College Institute, a local nonprofit dedicated to preparing 120 Latino, first generation students for college, where Bernice has spent many afternoons being tutored since 9th grade.
“We’re so proud of Bernice,” Lange said. “She had lots of obstacles to overcome in her life and she made it through.”
Lange added that the $10,000 scholarship Bernice received is the largest single amount any student from Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI) has ever won.
The primary goal of BLCI is to promote higher education among Barrio Logan youth, where the drop-out rate is very high.
Bernice said she’s proud that, in addition to being a role model for her 14 year-old brother Joaquin, she might also inspire others from Barrio Logan to continue with their education.
“I think it’s important for people to know that it is possible,” she said. “My family has always struggled financially, but especially last year I didn’t have a lot of things at home. Today things are finally getting better”.
For additional information about the Horatio Alger Association’s members, programs, and scholarships, please visit www.horatioalger.org.
For more information regarding Barrio Logan College Institute, please visit www.blci.org. Or you can call (619) 232-4686. BLCI is located at 1807 Main Street.