Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

I walk out the doors that keep me restless past dismissal, a tight knot in my stomach roaring for something to fill its void. My skirt makes my legs seem fragile from the cold breeze. A tie wrapped around my neck that makes it difficult for me to swallow. A white shirt under my vest that is filled with sweat from today’s running to classes amongst crowds of students. My vest sits over it, my school motto, “Whatever it Takes” reads on the left side of my chest. My hunched back wants to rip off every layer of clothing on me the moment I step out of the building. The endless tucked-in layers of clothing make me want to scream out to the world. I close my eyes the instant I find a seat on the bus, and I let myself drift off to the image that comforts me most: the moment when I walk across the stage of graduation to be the first in my family to graduate high school. In that moment, the sweat, exhaustion, and tears will validate the physical and emotional sacrifice along the journey my family made to get me here.

I was raised by my grandmother until the age of 9. I remember watching her separate clothes in strangers’ apartments. She spent hours on her knees, scrubbing floors, or wiping windows with Windex as I watched cartoons and ate a sandwich. I’d grab a cloth and begin scrubbing. “So we can leave sooner and you can finish faster,” I’d tell her. I used to look at my grandmother’s calves and admire both the strength they held and the heartbreaking history of how they came to be. 

Many years ago, these calves walked through the darkest of nights across a field of worn grass and deserted land in search of opportunity and a promised future. Terror knotted the pit of her stomach as she heard helicopters fly by, the cries of coyotes and dogs, and as she saw the flashing of halogen lights. But the images of her children at home kept her from falling to her knees or turning back. For hours, without food or drink, she persisted by only the light of the moon, to cross into the country she believed held the answers of opportunity for her family.

Each morning, my siblings look up at me with glistening admiration in their eyes. “Wow, I wish I could be just like you,” they say, but if only they knew that their road is much smoother because I am the one who paves it first. It’s the look of expectation in my younger siblings’ eyes that keeps me going; being their source of admiration and pride drove me to endless unrequired reading and writing, a highlight of which resulted in being published on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global.

My grandmother’s endless walking from Mexico to the United States, the pain and sacrifice she endured, will be worth it the minute I walk across that graduation stage. Attending college will validate my grandmother’s sacrifices as well as my own. She never once turned back at the sight of rocky barren lands with her aching feet. It is now my turn to walk endless miles down the path my grandmother has set for me, and down the path I will set for those behind me. I will take the baton from grandma and carry it with the pride I feel knowing that my family’s future is far brighter. Because of grandma… and because of me.

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More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis