A degree and a dream

For upperclassmen pursuing their college degrees, the pressure of what to expect after graduation begins looming over their heads as they realize that true adulthood is approaching. For some, their entire futures have been planned out from an early age, but for others, what happens after walking the stage at commencement is a mystery.

Do I enter the workforce? Do I go to grad school? Do I take a gap year? These are all questions that might circle the minds of college students as they prepare to graduate and begin their careers.

I’m the kind of student who had the privilege of knowing exactly what she was meant to do. From the young age of 9 years old, I knew very clearly that I wanted to devote my life to defending people in a courtroom who I believe deserve a second chance. I knew that I wanted to help make some sort of change in our country’s criminal justice system, even if it had to start with individual lives and cases first. I wanted to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to better themselves, starting with the decisions that led them to need criminal defense in the first place.

As a child, I always envisioned that my dream would start at a university with a reputation for preparing its students for whatever field they planned on entering. Now, I am one semester away from graduation and a year away from starting law school, so that I can live out the goals that nine-year-old me set for herself.

Growing up, there was always some level of familial expectation that played into my determination to get my bachelor’s and Juris Doctor degrees. As a first generation Cuban-American, I am going to be the first person in my family to graduate from college.

The pressure to please my family has always been present, but it has served as more of a motivation than anything else. Knowing that my entire family migrated from Cuba to provide better lives for themselves and for future generations has provided me with the drive to fulfill their dreams. Achieving not only one, but two degrees is an accomplishment that means I’ve made it. I’ve always had that reminder in the back of my mind as encouragement to be everything I’ve promised my family that I would be.

Other than wanting to make my family proud, the main force that drives me to reach my educational goals is how desperately I want to see a change in the criminal justice system. Whether it be unjust sentences for undeserving offenders or the mistreatment of prisoners, there are many people in dire need of proper representation.

Our government has made some improvements in recent years, such as passing the FIRST Step Act, which aims to reform the criminal justice system to be more rehabilitation-focused and prepares prisoners to smoothly re-enter society. However, there are still many instances when justice is ignored.

As a child, I witnessed some of these injustices perpetrated against one of my own family members, and while it did discourage me for a short time, the experience ended up becoming my biggest source of inspiration. Now, as a senior in college, I know that I have absolutely made the best decision with my choice to pursue law school. I believe that I owe it not only to my family but to my nine-year-old self to accomplish the goal that I’ve dreamed about for so many years.

Britny Sanchez is a senior majoring in political science.