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Published on October 18, 2023

Realizing A Dream

My journey of hope and sacrifice

Katherine Escalante

Twenty years ago, my parents bid farewell to their home country of El Salvador. Driven to create a better life for my siblings and me, they left their entire previous lives behind. I remember when they sat me down and tried to explain that we would soon be going far from home. At just four years old, I couldn’t fully grasp what that meant.  

All I knew was that I was going to America, a land of dreams and endless possibilities. The next thing I remember was my father loading our suitcases into a taxi. I remember gazing out the window, seeing my cousins on the other side. I had no idea that would be the last time I would see them.  

Fast forward five years. It was 2012. I was nine years old, living in South Dakota, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established. The program provides temporary protected status to undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children. Although I was still six years away from becoming eligible, DACA opened my eyes to a world of new possibilities, as I witnessed my brother begin chasing his dreams after DACA allowed him to receive work authorization and a driver’s license.

I am humbled by my parents’ sacrifice and the courage, selflessness and love it represents.

When I was just two weeks from becoming eligible on my 15th birthday, the program was abruptly terminated, and I was heartbroken to see my hopes and dreams slipping away. While DACA was not a perfect solution, it provided hope and relief for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented individuals, acting as a bandage over the wounds of the broken immigration system.  

Growing up undocumented, I faced constant anxiety and fear, and those feelings now loomed larger than before. I felt like my potential had nowhere to go.  

In an incredible turn of events, the Supreme Court reinstated DACA four years later. It was my senior year of high school, and I applied as soon as possible.  

Amidst the uncertainty of whether I’d be accepted into the program, I discovered TheDream.US, an organization offering scholarships to support “under-documented” students like me. This was a true beacon of hope, reminding me that my dreams were valid and that I deserved the opportunity to pursue my aspirations just like any other student.  

 Going to college had been on my mind ever since middle school, but nothing prepared me for the pressure and fear of my senior year. The college admissions process is not designed for undocumented students. With no prior family experience in the U.S. college system, no access to federal aid or most scholarships, and little guidance from my school counselor, I felt isolated and overwhelmed.  

Katherine Escalante
Katherine Escalante at the Hart Senate Office Building during the Capitol Hill Ocean Week reception

But TheDream.US connected me to thousands of students in my position, helping me to recognize that my journey was one among many. I discovered strength and resilience through the people and stories I was exposed to. And I found solace in knowing we were all interconnected, bound by passion, resilience and a shared pursuit of a life free from fear.  

Receiving the TheDream.US scholarship and enrolling at Eastern Connecticut State University marked a turning point in my journey.  

Opportunities Abound

The transition from South Dakota to Eastern was exciting, and I embraced every opportunity that came my way. Eastern provided numerous avenues for growth, learning and connection.

During my first year, I became president of the Philosophy Club, a group that gathers to discuss social, political and cultural aspects of our world. This experience motivated me to seek my first internship as a teaching fellow for the organization Breakthrough Collaborative, where I delved into my newfound passions of teaching and engaging people in meaningful conversations.  

In my sophomore year, I was hired as a social media assistant for the Office of University Relations, where I had the chance to create content and share stories with Eastern’s campus community. A couple of months later, I was recruited by, an immigration advocacy firm, to lobby congressional representatives and senators for DACA reform. This transformative experience empowered me to speak truth to power and advocate for my community.  

Fueled by my passion for sustainability, I pursued an independent research project analyzing high-speed rail policy in the United States using an AI language model. I even presented my research at local and national academic conferences. This past summer, I became a Yale Conservation Scholar and interned at an ocean conservation NGO. This gave me the unforgettable opportunity to be a climate innovation panelist and participate in a White House roundtable, where I spoke to the State Department and Council of Environmental Quality about ocean and climate issues.  

From leaving my home country to navigating the uncertainties of DACA that still loom, my journey has undoubtedly been like a roller coaster. The challenges I have faced have shaped me into who I am today. The path ahead will surely present more challenges, but I will face them with strength, hope and community.  

I am so thankful to TheDream.US for connecting me to Eastern. It is because of this school that so many wonderful opportunities and experiences have followed. Eastern has truly given my potential a place to go, and I am forever grateful for that.  

Written by Katherine Escalante