In early October 2020, David Andrade ’23 wrote the following email to Bill Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid.
We are sharing his story here with his consent.
October 2, 2020
Dear Dr. Fitzsimmons and Harvard Admissions,
My name is David Andrade. I am currently a rising sophomore looking to major in Mechanical Engineering. I am writing this email today both as a reflection and as a thank you for giving a little Hispanic boy from Little Havana in Miami, FL a chance. I am not sure who admitted/advocated for me on the admissions committee specifically, but it says Dr. Fitzsimmons on my acceptance letter. I would like whoever admitted me to receive this note as well, as a thank you to them.
Growing up, I did not have much. My mom’s a housekeeper; she has been since the day she came from Honduras over 30 years ago. She came to this country in pursuit of the American Dream, cleaning houses for the types of people she once dreamed she would be. However, reality turned out much different than we had hoped. I grew up during the housing crisis- not the best time for a housekeeper. Even through the strife and realities of poverty, I tried to see the good in my experiences. Sometimes, the only food in our cabinet were Vienna sausages; however, you could not deny that they were absolutely delicious. Because of the cost, we never went to any restaurants or private parks or the movies – but basketball, educational Vsauce/SciShow videos, and board games occupied my time. I remember having toothaches, and, instead of going to the dentist (too expensive), we would tie my tooth to the door and slam it shut so that my tooth would fall off! I felt lucky to get Burger King if I went to the doctor and there was nothing wrong with me at the checkup. In fact, I went to my first real “restaurant” when I was 17 with my teacher, who wanted to celebrate my high score on the ACT. It was so weird. I did not know how to act in the restaurant, what to ask the server, or how I wanted my meat done. It was my first time; I did not know any better!
But I cannot deny that some of my childhood could not be looked at lightly in this reflection. I remember waking up every school day at 4 AM. The bus driver would pick me up in her car, drive to the bus depot where all the school buses are parked, get on the bus and continue picking up kids until 9 AM, when I was dropped off for school. I woke up so early because my mom herself took 3 buses to get to work; she did not trust me waiting alone outside for the bus in my neighborhood. I remember getting harassed by a school cop after school hours because I was in a teacher’s classroom late after finishing an ACT Bootcamp session for my peers. I was still packing up from finishing that evening, but the cop did not believe me- who would think that someone would hold such a session at this school? I remember a teacher telling my entire classroom that we were not good enough to go to college in 10th grade. I remember multiple instances in which my smart black peers, desperate to be
challenged, would rot away in regular and intensive classes- teachers did not believe in them and refused to put them in honors classes because of the color of their skin. In a 90% Hispanic school.
I remember the good, the bad, and the ugly of my childhood experiences.
You hear stories like this all the time probably. Stories of poverty, strife, and eventual redemption. You know what comes next after all this narration: I am poor, I hate to see my mom working at the age of 64, and I want to help her to achieve the American Dream. So, I study hard, get good grades, make impact in my clubs and organizations, develop leadership skills, and voila, I am applying to your prestigious institution.
My experiences are relatively common in America, unfortunately- you can find thousands of copies of me across the nation. But out of all those kids, you accepted me. I look at my friends with similar backgrounds and accomplishments, and they did not get in. I look back at what I did, and I compare it to what my peers did in high school. Why me? I do not know. I do not know how this admissions process works, and I do not know what separates me from them. But I thank you. I do not know where I would be today without you believing in me. I know there is some other person like me who was rejected, and I hope they are doing well somewhere else – sometimes, I reel at the fact that you chose me over them. I wish all students who went through similar things as I were able to experience the amazing experiences I have had thus far at this institution. Alas, we are systematically oppressed, and need to desperately reform the public education system in America, promoting and working towards increasing opportunities and support for minorities to succeed in high school to be able to apply to such prestigious institutions.
I cannot begin to explain how fortunate I have been to attend this place. I love it. I feel at home. I feel like I belong. I love learning from others. I love hearing their passions and using that energy to improve myself as well. Harvard students constantly elevate each other. I love that support. Harvard taught me how to learn, how to be proactive, and how to ask for help. I have learned how to reach out to professors and have grown to not be afraid to ask questions in class. I learned how to lead and how to listen.
Most importantly, Harvard taught me to believe in myself and my passions. Growing up, I was taught that I could be only a lawyer, doctor, or engineer- only those people earn money, and as a poor person, money is your life support, so you believe this false statement. Old me would have never taken someone seriously if they said they were working toward being an astrophysicist as a career- where is the job applicability there? But now, I hope to understand the cosmos and improve the human condition on Earth, building one spacecraft instrument at a time – I am pursuing my dreams, even if far-fetched, because I believe in myself and believe I can be the best at what I do. Harvard allowed for that.
I have had a fantastic freshman summer working in the Stubbs Group designing a filter scanner calibration system for a telescope in Chile. I have taken a lead role on the Harvard Satellite Team, building Harvard’s first CubeSat. I have a leadership position at the Harvard College Engineering Society, developing freshman engineers to be the future leaders of the SEAS community. I have started green-training and welding training for machining things in my own time and I am CNC mill and lathe certified. I have thoroughly enjoyed the mechanical engineering and electronics classes I have taken so far, and the content is something I would have never seen in a high school classroom. I have even explored political bipartisanship clubs and started an education project to increase publicly accessible course materials at Harvard. I have taken advantage of every single opportunity here at Harvard thus far, and hope it propels me into my career path – in fact, it already has, as I was fortunate to accept an offer to work at SpaceX this summer.
I think if me from two years ago saw me today, I would be unrecognizable. I am more confident, comfortable in my own skin, and I feel at home for the first time, probably ever. And I have you to thank for this opportunity. Thank you. From the empty cabinets of Little Havana to the telescopes atop the Science Center, high above the city of Cambridge- I am home.
David has also shared additional commentary to supplement his original letter below:
Of course, my story is not unanimous among all FGLI students at Harvard. Some just do not feel at home at a PWI like Harvard and question the level of diversity on campus. Some have spoken about the lack of mental health support that administrators and CAMHS provide for them. Some criticize Harvard for not doing enough to help our community, amplified during the pandemic with storage relief and lack of housing for those with domestic instability. I am fortunate to have found my place at Harvard but hope this institution provides more support to FGLI students to feel at home in the future, just as I wished some of my high school peers received support in an environment not always conducive to growth and learning.