Viviana Andazola Marquez ranks getting into Yale as the single proudest moment of her life. Her frank personal statement about growing up homeless was published by The New York Times as part of a collection of college essays about money. Being selected was as much a symbol for her as it was an accomplishment.
“It was affirmation that my life was under my control. I knew that things would never be the same and that I could make anything I wanted of myself,” Andazola Marquez told The Huffington Post over the phone last week.
She recorded herself opening her Yale acceptance and uploaded it to YouTube. She lets out a pretty memorable shriek when she discovers that she got in.
The 19-year-old is currently starting her sophomore year at Yale after spending the summer on campus, interning in a chemistry lab. She says she doesn’t know yet if she wants to major in chemistry, history or both, but has the upcoming school year to decide.
Andazola Marquez grew up in Thornton, Colorado, right outside of Denver. Her life as a teen revolved around where she and her siblings would sleep, what they would eat and how she would stay in school.
We had been turned away from several homeless shelters and we were bouncing around from stranger’s home to stranger’s home.
Her parents, who came to the United States from Mexico more than 20 years ago, owned two restaurants when Andazola Marquez was a child. They divorced when she was in the third grade and her father eventually remarried. Things worsened for the family around the time Andazola Marquez reached middle school.
Her college essay details the ways they struggled. Some nights, she, her mother, sister and two toddler brothers would sleep on the kitchen floor of a good Samaritan’s home and turn on the oven, hoping that it would keep them warm throughout the night.
“We had been turned away from several homeless shelters and we were bouncing around from stranger’s home to stranger’s home,” Andazola Marquez told HuffPost. She used to travel around the city looking for open Wi-Fi networks to use so that she could complete her schoolwork on borrowed laptops.
Luckily, she had a support system at school. The teachers and administrators at the school she attended from fifth grade until gradation were well aware of her situation.
Her closest mentor and teacher, Eric Munoz, says tenacity is one of Andazola Marquez’s most unique gifts. “I saw the challenges put before her increase, [but] her ability to academically thrive followed. It was amazing to see her not view the problems in her life as roadblocks — but as moments to be more resilient. She never touted her homelessness; she learned to live from it,” he told HuffPost via email.
Mr. Munoz, along with other teachers, often picked Andazola Marquez up from wherever she had stayed the night before — which was sometimes a motel or shelter — and helped get her to school or activities later in the day.
“They did everything possible to make sure that I stayed with them. They went out of their way,” Andazola Marquez said.