Tatiana Perez is the eldest of four children and the seventh of thirty-four cousins.  She is the only one in her large extended family to learn from her family’s example that she wanted to be the opposite of all they stood for in life.  Her childhood consisted of an environment encompassed by “… a lack of motivation, an absence of education, collaborations with crime, distressing separations, terminal illness, and financial difficulties.”

Tatiana presents herself with confidence, dignity, and a joy that masks the reality of her life outside of school.  School is her haven to blossom and grow as an individual.  She has been a school cheerleader and group leader for the last five years and has played competitive soccer for six years.  She speaks of the word “LIFT” playing a role in all of her life from cheerleading where ‘LIFT” means standing before spectators “uplifting their liveliness at a sporting event” to soccer where “LIFT” meant “hoisting myself off the dirt and brushing myself off quickly to win each strenuous tournament.”

Tatiana’s grandfather lives in a nursing home, where her mother works, so her mother spends long hours after work caring for her grandfather.  Tatiana has the responsibility to nurture, feed, and support her young siblings.  On the weekends she volunteers at the nursing home, coordinating activities with the recreation department.  Tatiana also volunteers with young people who have cognitive disabilities, sharing her love of soccer with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy superstars!

Now it is Tatiana’s time to dream for herself as she starts her college journey at U.C. Santa Barbara summer, 2014.  She is entering undeclared as her mind is filled with all the possibilities ahead.

“I am one of thirty-seven cousins in California; twelve of whom dropped out of high school before the age of eighteen. Six have been incarcerated, five dropped out of school to take care of their own children at sixteen, four faced expulsion from school because of affiliations with crime and illegal activity, and three have gone to rehab for drug addiction. I witnessed each occurrence first hand before my twelfth birthday… I will LIFT myself over any obstacle to ensure I receive a college education…”