Stories from the Heart: TGF's Scholarship for First-Generation Student

John Wee was just four-years-old when his parents brought him and his older brother and sister to California from the Philippines.

Like many immigrants, the Wee family was looking for a better life, and a brighter future. But turning those hopes into reality took hard work and determination, especially since they were still adjusting to life in a completely different country.

John’s parents dreamed that their youngest child would be the first in the immediate family to attend college.

It is a dream that he has now achieved, with the help of the Tim Griffith Foundation’s scholarship grant to assist with costs associated with attending college.

John’s road to UC Santa Cruz started in middle school, when the idea of affording a private high school education seemed unreachable for the family.

With the help of Peninsula Bridge, which works with low-income students to prepare them for high school and college, John gained the confidence to apply to St Francis High School.

“My dad definitely wanted me to go to college, that’s why he wanted me to go to a private high school, so I could have a bit of an edge to get into college,” John said.

It took lots of study, and a scholarship, which included John’s commitment to work at St Francis High School, that got him into the Mountain View school.

“I worked [for the] high school, where they would pay off the tuition as long as I worked 100 or more hours or more per year,” John said.

“For the first two years I mostly worked over the summer, scraping gum and cleaning the school. I also helped the IT department. For the second two years I worked in the cafeteria.”

The upheaval of leaving friends from middle school behind to join classmates from completely different backgrounds, helped to prepare John for college and the “real world”.

“There were a lot of people from rich and well-financed families there, and it didn’t feel right at first in that way,” he said.

“But I made a lot of friends with other students who were also working over the summers, so there were a lot of other people who were in similar situations.”

Fast-forward five years and John is a Freshman at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in Computer Science. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though “In my first week of college there were power outages that lasted a few days, then there were some strikes, and my dorm building caught on fire, so we had to evacuate for a few days,” he said.

Despite all the drama, John was settling into college life well before the “shelter-in-place” order meant he had to return to his parents’ home in Campbell to keep studying online.

“I moved back home for the spring quarter, and it’s definitely harder to find a quiet place to do work at home now. My parents didn’t understand how Zoom classes worked, and at school at least you had a library,” he said.

“I definitely think it’s harder to get help now. I went to as many tutoring classes as I could during the first two quarters, but now they are a lot more limited, and it’s more difficult for tutors and teachers and TA’s to help you.”

Being unable to work in the Dining Hall at the college has left John with more time to study, but with less educational support and he says he’s worried about passing a “weed out” class that would allow him to continue learning Computer Science.

“I’ve been very wary because you’re only allowed to fail one class, and then you’re not allowed to be in that major anymore,” he said.

“I’m under as much stress as anyone else, at least in terms of Computer Science. It’s going OK, except right now some of the assignments have been getting significantly more difficult.”

John may just be selling himself short though. The softly spoken 18-year-old graduated high school with a bucket full of A grades, and is no stranger to hard work. John has continued to excel academically in his first year at UC Santa Cruz.

“My parents have high expectations of me, but in a good way, because they are also expectations that I hold for myself so that later on, things will be a lot better,” he said.

Your donations and support allow the Tim Griffith Foundation to help under privileged students just like John achieve their dreams.

Currently, there are many students just like him who are struggling to pay bills to keep their internet during the pandemic. 

John is one of 15 students helped by the Tim Griffith Foundation. We will continue to share more success stories in the coming months.

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