Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Thomas Ray Garcia ’16

Pharr, Texas • English View Profile

Breaking the Bubble

Leading a "Mentor Lifestyle"

I lead a Mentor Lifestyle because I have not forgotten where I come from. However, I admittedly did at one point, during my first semester at Princeton.

I believe it's easy to become wrapped up in trying to get the most out of the "college experience." I know I did during my first semester. Completing rigorous coursework, meeting interesting people, and adapting to a new environment made me forget about the struggles I faced with poverty and a lack of educational opportunities back home in the Rio Grande Valley. Princeton served as a sort of paradise that gave me the freedom to live an independent life, revel in newfound camaraderie, and expand my mind. I knew I wouldn't have received the same opportunities back home—nothing remotely close. But eventually the semester ended, and Christmas break led me back to the real world.

My three weeks at home opened my eyes to the reality I had grown up with all my life. It was a jarring experience to realize that the Rio Grande Valley was still a poverty-stricken region and that the students at my alma mater still weren’t receiving the educational opportunities they deserved.

Why was this shocking to me? I knew serious problems existed back home, but I didn’t realize the scope of these disparities until I left everything I thought I knew behind and later returned with new perspectives. I discovered how fortunate I was to go to Princeton and how unfair it was that others had to live in underprivileged conditions. This spurred me to think about how to solve this issue the best way I could.

The result was the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo College, Scholarship, Leadership Awareness Program (PSJA CSLAP). During the summer of 2013, a group of friends and I held seminars, workshops, and test prep sessions about the college application process. I met many students whose stories and aspirations cemented me in my desire to become an educator. It also fulfilled a void in me. I felt that I had longed for this type of lifestyle, helping others achieve and grow, and living it made me happy.

PSJA CSLAP 2014 Team
Pioneers of PSJA CSLAP trying to pose for a group photo

To this day, my mentees occupy significant chunks of my thoughts. I still thoroughly enjoy my "college experience," but it's been supplemented by my Mentor Lifestyle. I am not only present here at Princeton, but in my community as well. I wouldn't have it any other way.