It would have seemed that the stars were not aligned for Kelly Acevedo: she suffered constant abuse from the relatives that received her after having left her family in Zacatecas, Mexico, having only completed middle school when she returned to Los Angeles.
“At the beginning they were good to me, but when I started going to school they did not treat me so well. My aunt always told me she was going to kick me out of the house and send me back to Mexico,” said Acevedo, who graduated from Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles with an excellent scholastic average.
Her time with this family were nights spent sleeping on the floor and studying in a dim lamplight, but Acevedo says that the unnecessary scolding was what hurt the most.
“If I went to a ceremony because I had won a prize they called me to tell me: ‘You are smoking or getting high with your friends, for sure’,” she said.
Acevedo, born in Los Angeles 18 years ago, was under the tutelage of her aunt and uncle because her family moved to Mexico when she was 11, to keep her older sister away from bad friends.
There, without broad dominion of Spanish, she studied and struggled for three years in middle school, but when she finished, she asked to return alone to her hometown to seek a better opportunity.
She did it despite the adversity. Acevedo received a Gates Millennium scholarship, which will finance her studies in Political Science and Arts Studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
She wants to focus on creating advertising campaigns, leveraging her passion for art and her ability to draw portraits.
“I had a mentor who works at Universal Studios doing advertising and I really liked it,” said Acevedo, who has received several awards.
But this teenager, who describes herself as a nerd, believes that she would not be celebrating her academic success without the help of TRIO, a program from the University of Southern California (USC), which has for 39 years helped low-income students to continue their academic career.
Through this initiative, Acevedo received assistance in various aspects. “I had the opportunity to take advanced classes and so I prepared more for college. Those who work in the program were always with me when I had family problems,” she said.
It is estimated that 80% of those enrolled at the USC TRIO program are Latinos. The program offers specialized Saturday classes, a six-week stay on campus and visits to different schools. The initiative, which receives a federal fund of $2.7 million each year, collaborates with 16 high schools in Los Angeles.
“The program is important because our children need to go to college and improve their lives,” said Theda Douglas, associate vice president for government programs and collaboration at USC.
Acevedo, who began living at a friend’s house in March, effectively leaving behind abuse and school trophies, dreams of one day bringing her parents to live in the U.S. — legally.
“I want to buy a house so my parents can live with me, because I’ve been without my family for a long time,” she says.