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.