Six Feet of
a publication by and for young people,
created during the coronavirus pandemic

Featured Article

My First Step 

By Lana Nguyen, 17, the Tenderloin, San Francisco
Our living situation is something we cannot control. Growing up, I had many responsibilities as I was my family’s translator, social worker and “glue,” holding the family together. Although I played various roles, there was always one figure that I couldn’t get a hold of: money. This limited my access to academic guidance, enriching summer experiences and an overall stable household. This piece of paper itself has no value, but it controlled my life — and it still does.

            As I begin the college application process, I can’t help but think that I could be the reason for my family’s burden. A sense of guilt follows as I imagine my next four years being spent with friends and careless spending, while my parents struggle at home. For some people, it's an easy choice to make when deciding to take their first step towards higher education, but for me, and others in similar situations, there is a hesitation. We aren’t questioning whether we want to go but, rather, if we can.

            Although the college acceptance letter feels like the end goal, actually attending is a whole other challenge in itself, requiring an immense amount of financial support. As of now, thoughts of uncertainty surround me. How will I cover travel expenses to even get to college? Where will I live? Will I have to work? Will I have a social life? What do I tell my friends if I can’t go to dinner with them?

            There is just so much I can’t control. And there’s so much we can’t control.

            COVID-19 happened in the midst of everything: our school year, a new year, upcoming exams and graduation. It felt like our world was broken into pieces as many tragedies were happening in front of us. But something that was also surrounding us was our loved ones. People started to come together to thank essential workers, help senior citizens and encourage wearing masks.

            However, there was also an abrupt change within our educational system that no one was addressing. Many families rely on school resources such as college counseling, tutors, studying spaces and free school supplies. All of these are necessary for a successful learning environment, but it vanished at the onset of the pandemic. Families didn’t have the time to adjust to recreating a school environment at home, nor were they financially able to accommodate this change, as many are not receiving a steady income during this time. Education shouldn’t be limited simply because of cost. Everyone deserves to have a strong foundation that fosters academic success.

            Susanna Lau and I co-founded SupplyHopeInfo (SHI) to mitigate the educational and financial challenges that students may be facing, even before this pandemic began. In addition to providing school supplies to low-income students, SHI works with organizations to supply students with laptops, connect students with academic tutoring groups and share a list of resources to help during COVID-19. Because of our supporters and generous donors, SHI was able to raise over $34,000. SHI is expecting to help over 2,000 students take that first step towards academic success.

            The success of SHI means a lot to me because it was something I crafted with my bare hands, taking it on with full control. SHI was the proof I needed to help me realize that although I can't control my living situation, I am able to control my actions that lead to success. The overwhelming support I have received has allowed me to believe that it is possible to take my first step towards university.

            And so I did.

            The cost of university still worries me, but it is not something that should control me. I have found various ways to start saving for my own college expenses: I sold clothes, worked summer internships and entered competitions to gain a few extra dollars. Even if it wasn’t financial, I still made an effort to learn how I could afford to go to school. I took advantage of opportunities such as college counseling, scholarships and simply reached out to friends in hopes of learning how to maximize my financial aid. All of these efforts opened me to various connections that not only helped my family receive food and healthcare, but also helped me find others to guide me through the college path. Although exactly how I am going to pay for university is still unclear, I know that I have done everything in my control to be able to walk the staircase that will lead me towards higher education.