Sandra Vargas - First Generation Female Immigrant


My name is Sandra but my family and friends call me Sand. Yes, like the sand you find at the beach. I am the mother of three wonderful, beautiful witty girls. I come from a very humble family and I am a first generation Mexican- American. Since graduating from college last May at age 35 with my first Bachelor’s degree, my life has taken a 180 degree turn for the best. I left a job I had been at for the past 13 years of my life, and where I was miserable. Ironically, my role at this job was helping people like myself who were trying to finish their education despite financial hardship. After about 8 years in my role, I came to the realization that if I wanted to be happy and be successful, I needed to help myself and complete school, just like I had been helping so many students and their families.

Today, I work for a company that not only is generous with their employees, but a company that is promising to build a career. 

My college experience was as challenging as it was rewarding. I was not able to go to college right after high school for the many reasons I describe in my story below. For those reasons, I had to postpone school and it was not until my early thirties that I decided to grab the bull by the horns and focused on finishing school. In 2013, as I enrolled in my first class at North Park University as a non-traditional student I recall thinking it was now or never. I went to school in the evening because I simply could not afford quitting my day job. I put myself through 3 years of sleepless nights and a life with minimal social life, not being able to enjoy those three summers because I went to school all year round.

The truth is my childhood was a very difficult part of my life. I was born in Chicago to a family of immigrants. Coming from a dysfunctional family and of scarce resources, I grew up seeing domestic violence in the household. At around age 5 my family decided to move back to Mexico. Unfortunately, my parents were unable to reconcile their differences and separated when I was still very young. My mother decided to move back to the U.S. and that was the last time I saw my father, I was 9. My father died tragically victim of a crime. As a result, I grew up without having a male figure in my life. My mother took on both roles and while I will be forever grateful for her efforts, she simply could not keep up with me and my siblings.

At age 17 I became a mother myself. I was a Junior in high school and sadly the idea of going to college was something I couldn’t even imagine. I recall thinking I had two choices, drop out of school to take care of my baby or find a way to finish High School. Dropping out of school seemed to be the easiest thing to do at that time. I chose the difficult way. I found an organization in the city that provided alternative school while on maternity. I had one more year to go and I didn’t want to quit. One of my first successes came a year later when I graduated from High school along with the rest of my class.


The years that followed although I had a great support system, achieving success and personal development was put on the back burner for me. It was a matter of working to raise my family or go to college. College once again was out of the question. Ironically, I started working for a school helping students finish college. Every year, during the Commencement Ceremony I could not help but wonder if one day I would ever be in their shoes. At first I started taking classes here and there at the school I worked for. I used to have very long days away from home and spent very little time with my kids. I knew that taking one class at a time would take me too many years to finish my college degree. I simply could not afford the financial obligations that came with attaining a college degree. At the same time, my personal life was going through a turmoil. It was too much to handle.


In 2013 my first born started high school and I made a promise to myself. I would complete my college degree regardless of the challenges I was facing. I wanted to be a college graduate myself by the time my daughter finished high school. I wanted to be a role model. I wanted my daughters to see my struggles and inspire them to make better decision in their lives. I recall wishing so many times for scholarships for the adult student. Unfortunately, there wasn’t many assistance programs available to non-traditional students. Despite the limitations, I decided to go around the roadblocks. Three years later, and many sleepless nights glued to my computer, many times I had to say no to having a social life, many times I had to skip buying coffee in the mornings because every single dollar counted, I was finally receiving my Bachelor’s degree.

Completing my college degree at age 35 has been a challenging process, yet very rewarding. My entire life has been full of Blessons. At a very young age I had to learn to stand on my feet while in adversity. If it hadn’t been for the many challenges I have faced, from the tragic loss of my father to the limitations in my upbringings to being a teen mother at 17 and lacking resources, I wouldn’t be the strong, motivated woman I am today. I hope that one day my story serves as inspiration to those who have paused momentarily their education due to life challenges. I hope my story inspires others to have a paradigm shift to recognize that even when it feels like the entire world is against you, the Blessons are there.