How growing up on the hospital’s fifth floor prepared me for college

ByAndrea Ramirez (guest essay)

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It was not easy growing up in a hospital.

I was born around the time when my 13-year-old brother was referred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his ankle. This forced my family of eight to migrate from the rural town of Zacatecas, Mexico, to Los Angeles. My five siblings and I started our new lives in my aunt’s small, crowded garage, in South Central L.A., leaving a life that took years to build in order to seek treatment for my brother.

His treatment lasted roughly seven years, a time that played a pivotal role in my life.

The fifth floor of the hospital is where I spent most of those days. I will never forget the bright LED lights illuminating the never-ending hallways, and how they reflected off of the yellow walls. I took my first steps there, and holidays were celebrated under those lights. Since my sister Miriam and I were not old enough to attend school, and our mother was taking care of our sick brother, we spent the majority of the day in the hospital’s day care. Miriam was 5 years old and I was 3 at the time.

I was unaware of it then, but that day care was where I established an unshakable passion for learning.

Miriam and I played pretend school. She was my first teacher and I was her only student. Though it was make-believe, I took it very seriously. It was my outlet from the world I was in. We built complex puzzles. These puzzles helped me develop problem-solving skills and helped cultivate my creativity. Beyond the hospital walls and away from the puzzles were the different homes in which my family took shelter.

I was 6 when my parents decided to make the U.S. our home. We moved to an apartment in the neighborhood in which I now live. It was a rundown two-bedroom apartment. It lacked the space to accommodate a family of our size, but it was much better than the garage we had been living in.

Inevitably, our household was chaotic.

Oftentimes, fights would break out among my siblings and sometimes even my parents. To escape, I found an outlet through literature and schoolwork. I reshaped my own world by absorbing and immersing myself in knowledge. I still recall my elementary school years—when things at home were volatile, I would take books to the living room, and with a flashlight in my hand, my sister would quietly read to me until it was time for school. It was then that I solidified my passion for learning.

This passion has taken me further than I ever expected. My hard work in school was eventually noticed by many of my KIPP teachers, all who advised me to focus my passion for learning towards achieving a college education. Initially, I wasn’t sure what a college education meant.

The only thing I knew was that with it, a door to more opportunities would open up.

This possibility of a better life is what drives me, and because of it, I have worked towards this dream, a dream that began in elementary school. As I look back, I realize that I have shaped my world through my passion. Every opportunity to learn and develop, I seized.

I seized it as I played “school” in the hospital day care. I seized it as I learned to persevere through arduous environments and plant the seeds for a bright future. I will undoubtedly seize my passion of learning throughout my college experience and beyond.