Cody Casares / The Advocate
Arguably the most dedicated, polished and actively involved individual walking around Contra Costa College remembers the saddest goodbye she ever had to whimper.
CCC Alpha Gamma Sigma (AGS) president, METAS tutor and Kennedy-King Memorial College Fund Scholarship recipient Brenda Vega, 22, said all the hard work she has done in her life so far is credited to her parents after they were deported when she was 11 years old.
Her passion is driven by bringing her parents, Gloria Sarabia and Gabriel Vega, back to America and sharing the American dream with her family.
“I go see them every time we break for vacation from school. The last time I saw them was this past December,” she said. “I plan on seeing them very soon again.”
The AGS is the California community college honor society and has a revolving door at CCC, and Vega said all the voluntary work she has contributed as a part of AGS has truly paid off in her academics.
She said not only did it help in acquiring the Kennedy-King Scholarship, but also in her current job as an assistant to Student Services and Instructional Support Coordinator Setiati Sidharta.
“She is essentially my right hand and for the last year has disseminated all academic information associated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of business,” Dr. Sidharta said. “She’s always busy, highly intelligent and very good at juggling her work.”
Vega is majoring in neurobiology, and currently lives with her three older brothers, Luis, 29, Miguel, 27, and Christian, 24.
She tutors seventh graders in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), in association with the METAS program. The purpose of METAS is to engage collaboratively with preschool through 12th grade students, and polish their academic skills for the expectations of a post-secondary education.
“Everybody in our family is just so proud of her,” older brother Luis said. “She’s accomplished a lot given what our family has gone through with our parents. But she has always been driven to a better life ever since she started college. It’s amazing how she finds time to cook for the family at times. Her work ethic speaks for everyone in our home. She’s the first to wake up and the last to go to sleep.”
Vega said besides loving food, she loves exposing young minds to the bright future they have, and recruiting them to the STEM program at CCC.
Her parents coming back to America is her top priority, however, she has aspirations of transferring to UC Berkeley, going to medical school and possibly becoming a neurologist.
Vega said she wants to help individuals when it comes to their overall health because she is intrigued by the human body, but remembers when she herself was surrounded with burgers and fries at a Burger King in Richmond on Macdonald Avenue.
She remembers working there before she decided to enroll at CCC, and said she will never forget the doubt in her mind associated with going back to college because of the price of tuition, and the fact that her parents weren’t around physically, or emotionally, for a young girl growing up with three brothers.
She said CCC was charging her out-of-state tuition and she could not afford the high prices all by herself so she decided to wait an entire year after leaving her parents in Mexico to enroll in college.
“I thought to myself that I had left my parents for no good reason,” she said. “I remember how hard it was for me emotionally. I had to adapt again to the language, culture and not having my parents around all by myself.”
Vega was born in the U.S., but said once she had left California, and had not been living in the states for one year, the price of tuition was extremely expensive for a minority single college student.
Vega said she was 18 years old when she came back to America, working part time serving fries, and waiting for the perfect opportunity to jump back into the education spectrum.
Her chance came after her application was accepted for a job with the construction company that is rebuilding the campus center, Critical Solutions.
She checked every day for her eligibility to enroll at CCC with in-state tuition as she handled the paperwork for the company, allowing her to keep close to CCC and continue her dream of going to college.
She always knew CCC was the place to be after graduating from high school in Mexico, and said she always felt that college in America would be the ticket home.
After time passed slowly with anxiety, Vega said she was granted in-state tuition to attend college after one year.
She said her time here on campus has blown by so fast, and the Kennedy-King Scholarship (up to $8,000) is a cherry on top as her time at CCC is ending.
“Brenda is a role model for all the younger female students because she is here living with three older brothers, no parents and yet she takes care of herself and our program,” Sidharta said.
“She was very shy when I first met her, but now she is strong and a positive influence for all women, especially all independent Latinas.”
Vega said she is thankful for the scholarship that will help her study more, work less and help financially when she leaves CCC.
“This money from the scholarship allows me to focus on the university level, achieving my bachelor’s degree and excelling in my four years at medical school,” she said.
Vega expects medical school to be strenuous and said keeping herself busy really helps with time and her goals.
She said she likes hiking in her spare time near Point Richmond, and knows life after CCC is no “walk in the park.” However, she wants every little girl out there who has ever dreamed of breaking from the mold of struggle to know anything can be accomplished.
“I believe it’s up to the individual to decide how the struggles in your life will become a positive trait, or a negative factor,” Vega said. “It can defeat you or make you a stronger person. It’s made me stronger. But it’s all up to you.”
And that’s a sacrifice she has made for her parents.