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UNC scholar, first generation student encourages others to break down barriers

Posted October 3, 2014

Cecilia Polanco has found her way at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I feel like I am where I'm supposed to be,” Polanco said. “My goal is not narrowing what my possibilities are.”
Polanco has become a leader.

She is an active member of the Carolina Hispanic Association and a Morehead-Cain Scholar -- a title given to only three percent of applicants.

The global studies major also traveled the world for a year as a UNC Global Gap Year Fellow.

“I got a scholarship to come to school and I got a scholarship to not come to school,” Polanco said.

She said getting to UNC presented its own set of challenges.

“Something I struggled with my first year was that sense of ‘Do I really belong here,’” Polanco said. “‘Are there people like me here? Where are the Latinos and do they feel the same way?’”

Identity has never been simple but it’s something Polanco has learned to embrace.

“To me I feel fortunate that I have that exposure that I kind of have this claim to belonging to these two different identities,” Polanco said.

Polanco grew up in Durham with her family from El Salvador. She is part of the first generation in her family to go to college.

“I think that's where my generation comes in. We push that barrier and we break down those boundaries,” Polanco said. “They have to do something with it, and if no one told them, that's something they're going to hear from me.”

Education is a privilege, she said, one she hopes other young Latinos take advantage of.


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  • mramorak Oct 8, 2014

    Yes its true i have some work to do but i also see i got your attention.For you to ignore whats going on is just as bad as me using bad grammer.

  • JenA7 Oct 7, 2014

    The ignorance and grammar are really quite amusing coming from such outspoken people.

    Attorney* (Attorney Polanco, not lawyer. She is licensed and practicing, so please give her the due respect she has earned and deserves*

    Congratulations Cecilia! Hopefully, you will not only inspire those who are or have been similarly situated, but will also motivate other to become culturally competent on the barriers you have broken down rather that merely go off of statistics and assumptions. Keep up the good work, Cecilia!

  • mramorak Oct 7, 2014

    Yesenia L. Polanco-Galdamez

    Attorney Yesenia L. Polanco-Galdamez started practicing Criminal Defense and Immigration Law in Fayad Law's North Carolina office in 2012. Attorney Polanco and her family emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. in the early 80's and she has called North Carolina home since the early 90's.

    She received her undergraduate degree in Romance Languages and Latino/a Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005, and her J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law in 2008.

    Attorney Polanco is a contributor to La Noticia's "Dudas del Inmigrante" weekly column and also Fayad Law, P.C.'s monthly blog. She is a long-standing community leader and advocate.

    Yesenia is a fan of food, dancing, laughing with family and friends, and down time with her husband, Ben. She is passionately devoted to leadership and social change, learning, and all things positive. She also enjoys practicing yoga, telling stories, serving as her fami

  • mramorak Oct 7, 2014

    I wander if she's related to the immagration lawyer that practices in Durham that graduated from UNC.
    Yesenia Polanco?

  • mramorak Oct 7, 2014

    My kid will be saddled with dept for at least 10 years

  • mramorak Oct 7, 2014

    Im glad somebody said it because i was thinking it!

  • kermit60 Oct 6, 2014

    There was no barrier for her! She was given what most american kids have to work or get a loan for. maybe she can go back to El Salvador and educate her people so they don't come here and take it away from our children.

  • Ex-Republican Oct 3, 2014

    I'm happy for Cecilia. As far as breaking down barriers, well that's already been done for her. According to UNC's demographic breakdown, Hispanic/Latino population is 8%, just one percentage point lower than African Americans and 7% higher than native Americans. http://www.forbes.com/colleges/university-of-north-carolina-at-chapel-hill/

    She's doing great, but not overcoming any more of a challenge than anyone else.

  • glarg Oct 3, 2014

    What is this "barrier" she broke down exactly???

    She filled out the same form as everyone else, got preferential treatment because of her race and she was the first college attendee in her family and then was admitted. And then she got a scholarship.

    So rather than facing any "barriers" she got preferential treatment and a free ride. What a struggle.