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Alejandro Silva at his high school graduation. (Photo: Alex Silva)

Alejandro Silva at his high school graduation. (Photo: Alex Silva)

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Undocumented HS Grad Can't Afford College Of His Choice


Eight high school students spent their summer with us at KUOW. It was part of our youth radio program, RadioActive. Students worked with producers and editors and learned what it means to be a journalist. Amazing stories came out of the workshop and over the coming weeks we are going to share several of them with you.

Today, we hear a story about an undocumented high–school graduate. He wants to attend the university of his choice, but his bill is more than he can afford. RadioActive's Esteli Garcia has more.


Every spring millions of high schoolers experience this:

Alejandro Silva: "I got home and I went to the mail and I saw the packet and I took it out. I didn't even care what else was in the mail. I just got home, I opened it and just started reading through it."

It was an acceptance letter to Pace University in New York City.

Silva: "Dear Alejandro, I want to be the first to let you know the answer is YES!"

And this is Alejandro Silva, Alex for short. He's stocky, 5'7" and soft spoken. When he found out he got into college, Alex was ecstatic.

Silva: "Like at first, I was like, I don't know, am I dreaming or something? It's like an unbelievable moment. I just I wanted to tell everybody, run out. I wanted to, like, throw a party. I was just like all these feelings of excitement coming through."

Alex called all of his friends and his mom.

Silva: "I was calling my mom. I didn't realize as I was going through the letters that I also got a scholarship and I was like, 'Omigosh Mom, I also got a scholarship!'"

The scholarship was for $10,000.

Silva: "It was just kind of moment, like, I can really do this; I can actually do something with my life. It was a perfect day, everything was great, the weather was great, everything was falling in place for me that day."

However, Alex is missing something crucial: a Social Security number. His parents moved here from Mexico when he was three. But he is just like any other American teenager. He hangs out with his high school friends, performs in the local musicals, and calls the States his home.

Silva: "Actually the question comes up with my mom, where she tells like, 'Do you ever think of going back to Mexico?' And I'm like, well you know it'd be nice to go back, but I never actually answer as in I want to go back home, I actually say I want to go to visit. Because where I'm at right now is where my home's at."

As a result of coming to US without documentation, Alex can't get financial aid. And college isn't cheap. When the bill for Pace's deposit came, he put up the money to save his spot. He even went as far as to reserve a dorm and pay for orientation.

And then the bill came, not counting the $10,000 scholarship.

Silva: "It was about, like, $22,229 or somewhere around there. And I was like well, I don't have enough money."

Alex's parents couldn't afford another loan. So Alex started looking for other scholarships. But when it was time to fill out his information, he kept running into that little nine–digit box asking for his Social Security number. This happened again. And again. And Alex started to get resentful.

Silva: "You know I tell my friends, like, 'Why do I have to work harder than the other kid that's here? Why do I have to put myself, I have to work twice the work that they put in just to be at their spot.'"

Realistically it would be easier to go to a cheaper college. Alex lives in Pasco and was accepted at Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University. But he loves Pace. It's been ranked by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the top 25 acting schools. And Alex loves acting. It's just a perfect fit.

Silva: "I don't know, this is kind of stupid, but when a husband proposes to their wife, they don't do it just because they think it's for fun. They want to be with this person forever. And I mean, obviously you're not gonna stick with this school forever, but you wanna go to this school because it's the one you just fell in love with."

Alex would watch Pace's promotional videos over and over and over again.

Pace Promotional Video: "Pace's lower Manhattan campus sits in the city's financial center."

Almost obsessively. It gave him something to look forward to. It kept him sane through the struggle of coming up with the money. It was like this for weeks, then months. His summer flew by and he still couldn't find the money for the $22,000 tuition.

Three days before tuition was due, Alex still didn't have the money. But he had one last idea he could try.

Silva: "We just had to buy ourselves time. So, it was just kind of a moment where I guess I'll have to take that year off and kind of let go, which was really hard."

Alex decided to try to get a year–long deferment from Pace. This would buy him a year to earn the $22,000 he needed for tuition. But Alex wasn't sure he'd get it.

Sound: phone ringing

Man: "Office of Admissions."

Silva: "Um, yeah, my name's Alejandro Silva and I'm calling to — on behalf of my admissions entrance."

Man: "Oh, what's your question about admissions?"

Silva: "Oh, well I was calling 'cause I need a, I don't know — it's like decline or defer my acceptance 'cause I won't be able to attend this year."

Man: "Oh, do you want to defer to another semester?"

Silva: "Uh, is it possible to do it, well how long can you defer it?"

Man: "Well, you can go up to a year. Are you going to go to another college for a year, or are you just not going to school?"

Silva: "No, I'm not going to school. I need the year off 'cause, ah 'cause I'm in the circumstances where I'm not able to get the financial help."

Man: "Ok, that's fine. Just um, just shoot us an email."

And just like that, he got his deferment. Alex's friend said he could get him a job. In June, the Obama administration also came out with an executive order that lets some undocumented people file for residency.

Throughout all of this Alex is optimistic. He's ready. He's ready for that moment when he can go to the college of his dreams.

Silva: "At the end, what you accomplish — all the things you did — it's just like an incredible moment. You can actually look at yourself in the mirror and say I can do this; like, I can really do this. And then it's just like, almost like climbing a mountain and getting to the top and saying 'I actually made it here.'"

Alex's situation is still dependent on how much money he can get together, and whether or not he can get residency. But a lot can happen this year.

For RadioActive, I'm Esteli Garcia.

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