“It was nice to think I could get into one of those colleges, but it didn’t hit me that it was a possibility.”
Lizbeth, Columbia University
Hometown: Lawrenceville, Georgia
During her early childhood, Lizbeth Flores’ hometown in Mexico was a fairly tumultuous environment. When her father was severely injured, her parents decided it would be best to move their four children to the United States, ultimately settling in Georgia. Though it was safer, they faced new problems. Lizbeth’s father’s medical bills were extremely high. The family struggled financially, shopping at thrift stores and eating donated food, and moved around a lot. Lizbeth’s mother didn’t have documentation allowing her to work, so she mostly acted as a nurse to Lizbeth’s father, who was told might he not be able to talk again, or even survive.
And yet, he did. To this day, Lizbeth cites her father as her greatest motivation.
In light of difficulty finding work due to being handicapped, he was able to build a small landscaping business of his own.
“I knew education was the escape, and that through it, I’d be able to pay them back in the future,” she says.
But it wasn’t easy at first. In middle school, there were only two available spots for the Spanish-speaking class, and those went to her older sisters. Despite the challenge of total English immersion, Lizbeth knew she was an advanced student. Being the only one in the non-Spanish speaking class pushed her to succeed. “It’s easier when you’re the youngest,” she adds.
She and her sisters were always competitive with one another. Each one wanted to be the best, and Lizbeth believes that healthy competition fueled her success. She became the valedictorian of her high school, Berkmar High School, among the most competitive and high-achieving schools in Georgia. In the back of her mind, motivating her along the way, was her parents, neither of whom have any schooling past elementary school.
“I remember I brought my report card to my dad—it was all 100s, maybe one 99, and he asked me, ‘is this good?’. I was like, ‘yeah, they’re good!’” she laughs. “I don’t think they completely understood,” she says, “but I know they were proud.”
During her sophomore year of high school, one of Lizbeth’s friends asked her if she was going to college. “I didn’t know how to reply, because I didn’t know,” she says. “I didn’t know if it was affordable to me.” Both of Lizbeth’s sisters went on to state schools in Georgia, so Lizbeth assumed she would, too, and likely would have if it hadn’t been for her favorite teacher, who told her about QuestBridge. Indeed, just the prior year, three students had been selected as QuestBridge Scholars, so QuestBridge was somewhat of a buzzword around the school. Lizbeth applied.
“It was nice to think I could get into one of those colleges, but it didn’t hit me that it was a possibility,” she explains, adding that when she told her parents about the 5 out-of-state schools she had ranked, they didn’t think of it as something that could actually happen.
And yet—it did. Lizbeth matched with Columbia. She was apprehensive about telling her family, including her sisters, who she worried might be upset they hadn’t seized the same similar opportunity. But they were happy for Lizbeth, as were her parents, despite their sadness at the realization that their youngest daughter would be moving to New York City.
Lizbeth’s dad had an intense fear of planes, and that coupled with his nervousness for his daughter’s new life nearly prevented him from taking to New York for the first time. But he made it. When he left, he gave Lizbeth a hug. As a man who “doesn’t like to show affection or feelings,” it meant the world to Lizbeth, especially when college life proved challenging at first.
She thought, “I’m not smart enough, why am I here. At some point I thought maybe I should have just stayed closer to home”—a phase she says many students admit to going through. But in addition to the support of her family, what helped her pull through were other QuestBridge Scholars, especially a few on her floor with whom she “clicked with right away”.
Lizbeth’s goals for her future demonstrate the traits of a resourceful leading scholar and there’s no doubt she will achieve them. She’s studying civil engineering and would like to be a field engineer upon graduation and then either obtain a Master’s degree or become a project manager.
“College has made me a stronger person,” she says, “Little by little, I know more and more about who I am,” she adds. “But I am happy that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have, and that I had my family there with me.”