“I guess we feel validated.”
Anna Sanchez sat upright as the words came out of her mouth. She sat on a concrete wall next to her husband on Southwestern College’s Chula Vista campus. Both of their jackets proudly displayed the school’s name across their chests.
“If you really believe in yourself and you really want it, you can do it,” Christian Sanchez said.
That belief was just validated by Columbia University. The south San Diego couple were just accepted into the Ivy League school at the same time.
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Christian said he cried for two hours when he got the email.
“I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I was just like, ‘What!?’ ” said a smiling Anna.
Anyone accepted into an Ivy League school gets excited. It’s just a bit more amazing when you consider the path Anna and Christian took to get to that celebration.
“I think life got in the way,” Anna said.
Both were high school dropouts. Anna was a teenage mom. Christian wasn’t cutting it. Anna dealt with domestic violence issues. Christian had a drug addiction.
They found each other after high school, got married and raised five kids together. Five. As they entered their 30s, they both got tired of aimlessly bouncing around from job to job.
“I was like, ‘Well, I haven’t tried school,’ " Christian said, laughing. "The exact opposite of everything that I stood for at that time."
They both earned their high school diplomas in 2019 and then matriculated to Southwestern.
“Two high school dropouts come back to school with their five kids,” said David Ramírez, one of their professors and counselors at Southwestern.
Ramirez practically slapped himself on the forehead when he said it.
“Their grade point average was closer to the ground than it was to the ceiling, but they knew how to turn things around,” Ramirez said.
Ramírez launched them into the school’s PUENTE Project, a program that coaches and encourages students to work hard and seek higher education. Ramírez said Anna and Christian both excelled at Southwestern while still caring for their family. Christian even became the school’s Associated Student Organization president.
“It’s probably one of the most important places that I can think of,” said an emotional Christian.
Inspired by what they learned from Ramírez and PUENTE, the couple applied to multiple universities: UC Berkley, UCLA, Stanford, San Diego State, Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, to name a few.
Of course, they applied to their dream school: Columbia.
“Take a leap of faith, take a leap of faith,” Ramírez encouraged them. “And they were both admitted.”
Christian cried for two hours.
“I proved to myself that I can do it, which I was kind of doubting myself,” Christian said with a sigh.
“It made me just believe in myself,” Anna said
Now the couple faces their next challenge: Paying for it all.
“It doesn’t feel great to know that you get into such a great school and you cannot afford it,” Anna said, slumping over.
The couple started their own online fundraiser while investigating other ways to pay for the two students to attend Columbia. Don’t forget: They also have to move and support their five children in New York City for the next few years.
“We’re in the Himalayas right now,” Christian said with a chuckle.
Christian knows they have a huge hill to climb.
Their back-up plan isn’t too bad: Christian also got accepted to Stanford. He would go to school while Anna delays her schooling or takes online classes at another university.
Either way, Anna and Christian said they’d like to earn advance degrees and return to Southwestern College to return the inspiration they received in the PUENTE Project.
Anna wants to be a PUENTE counselor. Christian wants to be the PUENTE English professor.
It would be their way to validate the next generation.
“If we work hard, we can accomplish anything,” concluded Anna.