I am an educator. As with any profession involving children and politics, my job can be simultaneously grueling and rewarding. As a high school teacher I estimate that I answer upwards of 100,000 questions every day. I am able to navigate them all, and usually offer a friendly smile at the end, but this week one stopped me mid-breath. "How do I apply to college as an illegal immigrant?"
I stopped, thought, and looked. I looked into the eyes of a young woman who I had the privilege of teaching for the past three years. I gazed at her, replaying in my mind moments when she displayed great intelligence, compassion, citizenship, leadership, and entrepreneurship. I reflected upon the institute she attended to aid in research about cleaner water solutions and green initiatives in schools. I quickly recalled the poem she composed outlining her desire to go to college. As my mind whirled, I was quickly brought back to her confused eyes and her question. "Can I get into college without a social security number?"
"I do not know. But I am sure we can find out." You see, as an educator, I find it against my nature to just say, "I don't know." After finding the answer to this question however, I was not satisfied. I found that a student who was moved to the United States at 2 years old is not eligible for in-state tuition. I discovered that a student who has met all the same requirements as their peers will not be accepted into a university unless there is still room left after all other acceptance letters are mailed. I learned that a student with five advanced placement courses in high school is rarely offered an opportunity to apply their knowledge at the college level. My dissatisfaction led me to action.
I printed applications for the top-five college choices of my beloved student. I instructed her to apply and offered my services as a reference, proofreader, essay topic, computer provider, etc. I let her know that I would do what it takes to see her dream come true. When I said that, I meant it.
Today, I continue to believe that her dream is just as valuable as mine was when I was afforded the opportunity to attend a public university (tuition free, thanks to a lottery funded program). I believe that her dream is equally as critical as that of her best friend, a refugee with legal status. I know that her dream is as valuable as young Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama. I am convicted that the power of Christ's transformative love has the opportunity to be showcased as the Christian community unites to support this cause.
I urge everyone to take the time and reflect upon this issue of civil rights. I plan to put stamps on my student's applications. I will congratulate her as she opens acceptance letters to colleges of her choice. I will brag as I read her future environmental research. I commit to do my part in ensuring that my student, and every student in her position, is no longer oppressed in a country that is the only home they have ever known.
Christina Rufenacht is a high school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from Georgia Tech and is currently pursuing her Masters in the Arts of Teaching. Christina enjoys dreaming big and being in the classroom every day.