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A dream come true
June 09, 2008, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh

Until two weeks prior to graduation, Miriam Magaña believed she’d be in San Francisco for school in the fall.

The 17-year-old was excited at the prospects of college, regardless of the location, however still hadn’t given up hope of her number one choice — Bryn Mawr College in Penn. Magaña fell in love with the school when she met the campus representative who visited her East Palo Alto school — Eastside College Preparatory. A visit to the school sealed Magaña’s decision.

On Memorial Day, Magaña learned she had been moved from the wait list into the incoming freshman class. The news meant a definite change of plans for Magaña, but welcome news.

Magaña plans to study psychology before going to law school — a bit different from her childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer.

Growing up, Magaña split her time between California and the small town in Mexico. She and her three siblings were all born in the United States. The family, however, went back and forth between the two countries. Magaña remembers living in Mexico until first grade. Her memories of that time is filled with images of a close-knit family, many animals and drawing.

Her family members were all in houses on the same property. Magaña spent much of her free time drawing fashion designs.

Magaña’s family moved to East Palo Alto when she was going into first grade. She began attending Cesar Chavez Elementary. At the time, she spoke little English. She learned her ABC’s and to count to 100 while attending school in California.

The next year, Magaña’s family moved back to Mexico. She stayed there through almost the end of fifth grade. The small school in town only went to sixth grade. Many did not attend school past that, Magaña explained since it required a 35 minute trip. The family moved back to East Palo Alto so the children could continue their education, she said.

Magaña began taking classes at the San Francisco 49ers Academy for the last two weeks of fifth grade; There was no room for her at Chavez Elementary. Once again, Magaña found herself attending class without knowing English.

She picked up the language quickly, however. Then Magaña followed her sister to Eastside. The transition was pretty smooth for Magaña who participated in the summer bridge program.

At Eastside, Magaña took advantage of playing volleyball all four years and soccer for the first two. She also became involved with student groups like Step by Step, which did community service work like leading a blood drive, and Ambassadors, which literally represented the school at functions and before donors. Magaña volunteered with YES Reading as well, a program where she would be partnered with students from East Palo Alto Charter School.

The extra activities were atop her school load and also a job. Magaña started working at HoBee’s as a waitress — a job she held until last October when Magaña took some time to really focus on friends, family and school during her senior year.

Magaña and her siblings often help their parents at work as well. Both work two jobs with long hours to ensure their children get a better education and life.

The hard work is not lost on Magaña.

"When I go help my parents at work I realize that people view us differently. They look down upon us as I push the mop across the kitchen. They assume that I am just another Mexican girl who dropped out of high school. With everything that I have learned throughout my community, I will graduate from college and will give my parents back their pride. I have a dream to start my own program and cater to those in my community who need it the most. I will help those students who lack motivation and follow the negative trends that are prevalent throughout our community. Only then will I feel accomplished as a human being,” she wrote in an essay.

Making that dream happen includes college. Magaña chose Bryn Mawr College, an all-female campus, for a number of reasons. She was intrigued by the honor code and high standards expected of students. Magaña plans to study psychology before heading to law school. Being accepted puts Magaña one step closer to her dream of working with East Palo Alto students in the future.

Giving back is high on Magaña’s plan since she doesn’t feel her success would have been possible without those who offered her the same support.

Eastside College Preparatory School will celebrate its graduation on Wednesday, June 11.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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