Just Getting Started

 In Scholar Profiles, Stories

As she prepares to graduate from UC Berkeley, Vanessa Crisostomo Garcia’s next step will lead her home.

RP Scholar Vanessa Crisostomo Garcia poses for a photo in front of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus

WITH JUST A FEW DAYS left before she officially starts graduation season, Vanessa Crisostomo Garcia has a list of tasks to accomplish.

Soon, she’ll graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in Social Welfare. First comes the Chicanx Latinx graduation ceremony held at the Greek Theatre, then a department graduation ceremony inside Zellerbach Hall.

But before all that happens, Crisostomo Garcia has books to return and errands to run as she prepares for what comes next.

On this particular day, she is contributing to the unmistakable buzz of college life in Berkeley. As the sun peeks through cloudy skies for just a small sliver of the late morning, students clutching poster boards rush to class to turn in what one might assume is a final project for the spring semester. Not far away, groups of friends are popping champagne bottles and posing for their final photos on the steps of Doe Library.

The scene, and the degree that will soon follow, means more than most will ever understand. Crisostomo Garcia will be a first-generation college graduate, and when she walks the commencement stage not once but twice, her friends and family will be on hand to cheer her on.

It is a well deserved celebration.

“Oh my gosh. I’m super, super proud,” Crisostomo Garcia says, voice cracking before she can even finish the sentence.

“I definitely don’t want to cry.”

Shifting Focus

When Crisostomo Garcia graduated from El Cerrito High School in 2019, she entered Contra Costa College with an eye towards studying administration of justice. That turned out to only be the beginning, because once she got to the San Pablo campus, her world view expanded a bit.

Issues of equity in education started to pique her interest. She joined multiple clubs, made lasting friendships and took classes that began to convince her that providing access to education for those who might not otherwise have it was an area in which she might be able to make a difference.

She didn’t have to look far to find an example. 

While at El Cerrito, Crisostomo Garcia applied for and received a Richmond Promise scholarship. It wasn’t just a monetary contribution to her future. Richmond Promise staff helped guide her through the application process, apply for financial aid and connect with resources at schools like Contra Costa as she tried to figure out where to go next.

“Especially for my parents, Richmond Promise helped them be a part of it. Without (Richmond Promise), I feel like they wouldn’t really have had too much involvement, especially because of language barriers,” Crisostomo Garcia said. “So you know, them being accepting and inclusive, that really helped my parents join and be a part of it because they could understand what’s happening.”

The support didn’t stop there. 

As Crisostomo Garcia began to shift her focus at Contra Costa, the path forward started to become clearer. She kept her relationship with Richmond Promise, joining the organization as a Summer Associate in a paid role that helps RP in its mission of building a college graduating culture in Richmond. She also served as a Near-Peer Ambassador, applying her own experiences to help provide support to other students.

Berkeley Bound

After two years at Contra Costa, Crisostomo Garcia decided to transfer to UC Berkeley with the intention of studying social welfare. As an impacted major, admission was a bit of a long shot, and along the way counselors advised against trying to get into one of the school’s most competitive programs.

She didn’t just get in. She thrived. 

“I remember my first class, we were sitting down in a circle telling each other what our goals are, what are things that are important for us, and a lot of us said helping people because that’s what is significant to us,” Crisostomo Garcia said. “Everybody came in with a whole different perspective of what they care about, what their experiences were, what they were passionate about. Just hearing that, even though they didn’t all align with mine, it was really inspiring to hear that everybody was here with a specific mission in mind.”

She spent the next two years asking questions. Why are there barriers to educational equity? What is the role of race in urban education? And why was her educational journey different from others?

Those questions got even deeper this year as she chose to write her honors thesis on one of America’s most pressing issues, gun violence in schools. Again, she drew on personal experience, noting that her younger brother has had to endure multiple lockdowns at his high school this year.

As with most complex societal issues, the answers to her queries are anything but straightforward. 

But by asking the questions, Crisostomo Garcia moved that much closer to figuring out the next part of her journey. 

Taking the Next Step

She is set to graduate from UC Berkeley with a job already lined up. She will transition from an hourly job at her other alma mater, Contra Costa College, to a salaried position as a program assistant in the school’s Welcome Center. 

That means Crisostomo Garcia will be one of the first contact points for many students and families considering Contra Costa.

She’ll know just how they feel.

“I’m helping students get connected now to the services that I was once getting helped by,” she said. “I feel like all the programs and organizations that I’ve been a part of have really inspired me and motivated me to come back and serve the students who are like I was.”

Graduating from college fills Crisostomo Garcia with pride, but it isn’t the end of the journey. 

She has plenty left to accomplish.

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