By Pablo J. Sáinz
Thanks to a strong support network that included her parents and teachers, Julissa Muñiz never thought of dropping out of high school when she became pregnant at the age of 16.
“I was fortunate enough that within my immediate group of educators and family, not once was I cast off as another ‘Latina teen mother drop-out,’” Muñiz said. “All the contrary, I received a lot of support from the high school staff and teachers at San Ysidro High School, that continued to encourage me in spite of the challenges I then faced as a teen mother.”
And all that support has paid off: Muñiz graduated from San Ysidro High, moved on to UC Berkeley where she received her bachelor’s degree, and now this fall she will enroll in the prestigious master of education at Harvard University.
Her main inspiration: Her eight-year-old daughter, Amaris Gonzalez.
“My decision to apply and attend Harvard is rooted in my desire to create a world of opportunities for both her and I,” Muñiz said. “Being from a small town like San Ysidro, where opportunities are limited, I want to expose her to a world of new possibilities, a world where she molds her reality with her decisions and tenacity. I want her to learn from my lived experiences and the challenges I faced as a teen mother, but also to learn the importance of perseverance, education, and will.”
Muñiz’ plan is to apply to doctorate programs this fall and if admitted, to start her doctorate degree come Fall 2016. Her ultimately goal, she said, is to one day work at the local or state level informing education policy specifically as it pertains to education within the carceral space.
But to help her pay for her master’s at Harvard, Muñiz has launched a GoFundMe campaign. She needs almost $57,000 for the degree, and so far has raised almost $7,000 through the online campaign. She’s moving to Harvard at the end of July.
“So if I do not raise the funds necessary I fully intend to take out the amount needed in loans. I also applied to several scholarships, but loans will probably be the bigger chunk of it,” she said.
Muñiz’ story serves as an inspiration to her daughter, Amaris.
“I am excited that me and my mommy are moving to Cambridge,” Amaris said. “And I am so proud of my mommy for getting into the best school.
San Ysidro High School Principal Hector Espinoza recently told Fox 5 San Diego that “we also need to recognize the Latino community where she came from … sometimes our kids don’t see that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and she never took her eyes off of that.”
And Muñiz wants other teen moms who are going through the same stage she went through in high school to never give up their goals –and their education.
“Whenever I’ve met young Latinas, or any young woman really, who is in a similar situation as myself, I am always quick to ask them what it is they want to do in life,” she said. “You’d be surprised how many young ladies who once becoming teen moms are no longer asked that question. Once you’re a teen mom, its seems as though the rest of the world forgets about you, you as an individual, and unintentionally begins to see you as only a mother.It’s no longer, ‘How are you?’, it becomes ‘How’s the baby?’ For those that work with young mothers, don’t forget to see the young lady carrying the baby. Ask her, ‘What are your dreams and aspirations?’ You’ll quickly realize that we all have dreams.”
Muñiz is proof that a teen pregnancy is no barrier to accomplishing one’s dreams.
To learn more about Julissa Muñiz’ story and to support her dream of attending Harvard University, please visit www.gofundme.com/teenmom2harvard.