ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: ARMANDO
At Reality Changes, we work hard to raise up young people who can inspire and lead the youth of tomorrow. After all, it takes a village. When Reality Changers alumni are successful, they’re often motivated to give back to the next generation of students. When older students turn to younger ones to help them meet their own goals, the powerful and cyclical nature of Reality Changers becomes evident.
One such student who embodies this journey is Armando. His path from college hopeful to world traveler and aspiring diplomat is indeed motivating. Armando’s recognition of the ways Reality Changers has helped him on his journey reflects the importance of going all-in on your dreams.
Tell us about your Reality Changers experience.
I first encountered Reality Changers when I was in middle school. I was hesitant in the beginning, but once I actually went in, it was a really great experience. When I came to turn in my application, Christopher Yanov was in the elevator. I said “‘I think I’ve seen you before,” and then he introduced himself as the founder of Reality Changers. We just started talking, and he told me things that I could do [with Reality Changers]. He was already promoting that collegiate culture from that start. He asked about my goals and gave me advice.
I got admitted to Reality Changers when I was a sophomore in high school. My first experience was camp. I went to camp and met other students like me. Camp really built a community and a family that I needed throughout the school year. My junior year was a little bit smoother with the help of Reality Changers.
I couldn’t afford a tutor, but Reality Changers offered assistance with that. Their tutors helped me anytime I needed it. I met other students that were taking the same classes as me and it was really helpful. It was like that community that I needed at that time. I really believe that it gave me the opportunity to be exposed to college as well. I got to visit New Mexico my junior year through a research class I took with UCSD.
I really appreciate that I got exposed to this early on because now that I look at it down the road, research is something that I want to do. Being exposed to the University of California system early on helped, too. The professors were really helpful. Meeting awesome people was what made it really special and I was going with other Reality Changers students as well.
Why did you apply to Reality Changers?
My goal was always to go to college. I just didn’t know the steps necessary to get there. I went to schools that sort of promote that college-going culture but if you don’t know the stats, how to get there, it’s really hard. I feel like the Reality Changers really broke it down step-by-step and helped me along the way. That’s something that I really appreciate to this day, because if I hadn’t known that you could apply for schools as a low-income student with a fee waiver, I would have never applied to UCLA and got in.
I remember working on my college apps until midnight every weekend, with other students as well. It’s something that you go through together and you kind of build that community. I really appreciate that about Reality Changers. It’s a community because you understand that you may be going through similar struggles, similar situations that other students at our schools may not know about.
Reality Changers really helped me, step-by-step. From the specific documents that you need to apply, to the lines that you’re going to be inputting on the application, to the next steps after you’re done with your FAFSA… things that I wouldn’t have known. I know that my parents definitely appreciate it and that’s something that Reality Changers promotes, this idea that we’re in this together.
It takes a village. They hold parent meetings to keep them informed about what we’re up to now. My mom would always want to know “Oh, when’s the next meeting? How can I get involved?” She understands that even though she didn’t have the resources and privilege of attending higher education, she wanted the best for us.
I appreciate that the three programs that Reality Changers has; the College Town, College Apps Academy and the Alumni network are all interconnected. The College Apps Academy really helped me plan ahead. I remember our instructor would give us lessons even after we were admitted into college. Lessons on doing laundry and living independently were really helpful. Instructors would really go beyond and meet with us beyond those hours at a Reality Changers function.
What was your favorite Reality Changers moment? Why?
Camp was definitely a highlight, as well as getting to meet other students in the program. That’s something that was really special. Over 30 schools in San Diego County participate in Reality Changers. You can’t just go to random school and be like, ”Hey, you feel like you want to get to meet people from different schools in all over San Diego County?”
What is the biggest takeaway you’ve received from Reality Changers?
Giving back to your community. That’s something that’s really special to me. I know the statistics and the environment that our community is in right now. It doesn’t have the financial resources to be able to support as many students as we could. That’s something that was really special to me: to always give back and remember where you come from.
It’s really special to see future generations of Reality Changers students. I’m currently very involved at my university and I wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for Reality Changers. I remember someone telling me about a Summer Bridge Program I should try out, and I was very hesitant because I would have wanted to have the best summer, not take classes. But just recently, we had another Reality Changers UCLA freshman admitted and I was like, “you should really do the Summer Bridge Program.” Now he’s doing it.
I know that he really appreciated that he had somebody to turn to and ask things like “do you know where this is?” and have me give him directions.
What are you studying at UCLA? What are your future goals in what action steps are you taking to achieve them?
I’m doing a double major in International Development Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies. My future career aspirations are to one day work for the United Nations. I’m bilingual in both Spanish and English but I hope to be able to start my own non-profit in a different developing country. I currently work at the California Superior Court. That’s an opportunity I got as an incoming junior. I got to help underserved communities with family law and immigration law.
Who is your biggest supporter?
I just want to give a really special shout out to Jordan Harrison. I know that he recently graduated from Harvard but he’s been very supportive. He was the first person that I encountered in Reality Changers. He started the same time that I started and has been very encouraging. He would always check up on me and make sure that I was doing well and I really appreciate that.
What advice would you give to current students who are pursuing their dreams?
College changes everything. I’ve been able to travel and experience different cultures, something that I wouldn’t have done. I visited Cuba as a student and I appreciate learning about cultures as an International Development Studies major and seeing how people there live their day-to-day lives.
I’m currently the vice chair of the campus retention committee so I oversee the retention of students of color, like really ensuring that I’m advocating allocating the funds and evaluating that these projects are actually working for future students at UCLA.
Giving back is an important aspect, but also realizing that the tough times never last but tough people always do. In my mind, whenever I feel I’m in doubt or I’m being challenged, I go back and realize that I’ve gone through worse but I can hopefully take on this new thing.
Thanks to Armando for his unique insight and helpful stories! Students like Armando help Reality Changers inspire future generations of college students to go after their goals.