One of the most compelling aspects of my job is my work on Liberty Hill's Cal Dream Committee. The Cal Dream Scholarship Fund, established by an anonymous private donor, awards several scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to incoming or current undergraduate AB540 (non-resident tuition exemption) students attending UC Berkeley. This committee, whose members include the donor, Liberty Hill staff and UC Berkeley staff, reviews applications from students, who must demonstrate leadership and a commitment to service or activism on campus or in the community.
Each application tells a story about a young person who, as a teenager, has grappled with controversial immigration policies on a personal level—and at the same time, proven her or himself as living up to American values by working hard to earn a spot at UC Berkeley.
I can't, of course, share an application with you, but recently one of our Cal Dream scholarship recipients sent us a letter and has given me permission to publish excerpts. I wanted to let her voice be heard because young people like her often don’t have a place at the table and the pundits are missing the real-life people and stories behind the imagined “illegals” they fight over. This young woman's commitment to education and to this country is strong. She has had to search for funding one semester at a time to attend UC Berkeley, find affordable housing and to even have enough money to eat. Yet you see from her letter that she has faith in change and a renewed sense of hope as she looks forward to the school year.
I'm in my 30s now, and aware of the tensions surrounding immigration status, but in my teens I was a student worrying about being labeled cool vs. uncool and trying my hardest to make sure I would get into college. I viewed my peers not by citizenship status but by their grades, their participation in extracurricular activities, their friends—everything outside of whether they had a certain slip of paper. Our focus as youngsters was to get out of high school alive and ready for our future. Why can’t that be the case for Jessica?
I'll let her tell it:
Dear Liberty Hill Foundation,
Words cannot express the immense gratitude I have for your many efforts in fundraising for the Cal Dream Scholarship. When the lack of a legal status may be discouraging and may make undocumented students feel alone and isolated from certain state protections, organizations composed of caring individuals…are embodied dream-savers. I have many plans to continue to contribute to the immigrant community as well as America as a whole and I am honored to have your support in my efforts to pursue my bachelor's degree.
As co-chair of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education (RISE) at UC Berkeley, I am looking forward to connecting more AB 540 students with opportunities for financial aid, emotional support, academic counseling, and activism opportunities. Your scholarship has enabled me to secure enough funding to complete my senior year at UC Berkeley, where I can make the most of this wonderful opportunity to be a full-time student and active community member.
Before applying for your scholarship I had seen "California Dream Scholar" on the signature lines of some of my friends' and peer mentors' emails. Their advice, mentorship, and support were big motivators in my academic life, although financial pressure threatened to end my studies early. I am excited to move on to pursue a graduate degree in Linguistic Anthrology, where I hope to continue the movement toward a fair and humanistic representation of immigrants in the United States. Thank you for making me a Dream Scholar and thank you for giving me the help I needed to graduate with a bachelor's degree in Anthropology.
Knowing those individual stories, Cal Dream Committee members are closely following the progress of the California Dream Act. AB130, the first part, signed into law in July by Governor Brown, enables undocumented students in the state to receive private scholarships and funding.The second part, AB 131, now on the Governor's desk, would "enable students to apply for, and participate in, all student aid programs…to the full extent permitted by federal law.” We hope, too, that eventually there will be a national Dream Act policy that stems from a public understanding that investing in all young people’s education, regardless of status, is an American value worth holding onto.
Liberty Hill was an early and effective supporter of DREAM Act students through its grantmaking to the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). CHIRLA's Wise Up youth group was among those advocating for the 2002 California AB540 legislation that enables non-resident students who have attended (for at least three years) and graduated from a California high school to qualify for in-state resident tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities. Since 2006, Liberty Hill has awarded nearly $1.2 million to AB540 students struggling to pay for an education at Cal State L.A., Cal State Dominguez Hills, UC Berkeley and UCLA. For more information, check our Scholarships and Stipend Programs page.