One year ago, Wilmer Alvarenga was a senior attending KIPP Houston High School preparing to graduate as class valedictorian.
During his graduation speech, he told the audience that his goal entering high school was to maintain straight A’s. “I came in freshman year and was tired of the way my life was headed,” Wilmer said. “I don’t know why a 13 or 14-year-old was thinking about this, but I wanted to challenge myself. I just wanted to get straight A’s. I don’t know why I wanted to do that, but I did.”
Never losing focus over the next four years, Wilmer was rewarded on December 2, 2015, when he was accepted into Stanford University on a full-ride QuestBridge academic scholarship. “I broke down, was beyond surprised, and I’m still shocked that I got in,” Wilmer said.
Moving over 1,900 miles away from home last September, Wilmer admits that he quickly became homesick. “I’m very close to my family,” he said. “I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and all of my family lives in Texas. We don’t have anyone (living) in different states, so it was a pretty big adjustment.”
Besides transitioning to living away from family, Wilmer also had to adjust to the college academic work load. “Here at Stanford, I am constantly challenged to think outside of the box,” he said. “You have all of the tools that you need to solve a problem, but you have to apply those tools in a way that you never thought of before, which is still a little difficult for me. It’s definitely been a challenge.”
As he continues adapting to a new culture and lifestyle, Wilmer has been proud to share with others his KIPP experience and where he comes from. “I don’t think I would have made it into Stanford if it had not been for KIPP,” he said. “The college counselors, I couldn’t have done it without any of them. KIPP was just a really good place. I had a good high school experience.”
Wilmer’s advice to current KIPP seniors who are still struggling with their college decisions: have as many conversations with people attending the college as possible. “It’s definitely the community that sold it for me,” he said of his decision to attend Stanford. “Everybody here is just so open to talk. I’ve never met a stuck up person. I’ve never encountered anyone with a superiority complex. If you like the people, I say go for it.”
This summer, Wilmer will return to Houston, find a job, and take online classes. He remains undecided on a major, but isn’t stressing and knows he still has time. “I’m thinking about mechanical engineering,” he said.
Classifying his freshman year as an interesting experience, Wilmer has shown growth and adapted to his new surroundings. “It was a rough adjustment at first,” Wilmer said, “but I guess it’s like that for most college students going from high school to college. I’ve met a lot of people, tried a lot of new things. I’ve been in a lot of classes that I’ve been interested in. I’ve just learned a lot. There’s been a lot of skills and tools that I’ve used in order to succeed. It was all about figuring it out.”