It’s Marissa again, and today I want to tell you about the next part of my journey as a student: my first day of college.

Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, college was never a given. It was especially difficult because I didn’t qualify for in-state tuition, despite living in Colorado since age 9.

With the help of scholarships and immense sacrifice by my parents, I was able to afford the first three years at Fort Lewis College, a small liberal arts school in Durango.

From my very first day at Fort Lewis, I felt an incredible sense of responsibility. I had arrived in college, despite all of the odds. I needed to be a voice for my community, for the immigrants I represented, especially at a school that was only 7% Latino.

On campus, I began working in the admissions office, helping underprivileged students navigate their paths to college. I saw firsthand the disadvantages Native American and Latino students faced because their schools lacked basic resources, much less college admissions guidance.

I decided to major in political science because I wanted to understand how policy and politics affected these communities. I had dreams of reshaping education policy to address the inequalities in our school system. But before I could pursue those dreams, my time in college almost came to a halt.

Three years in, it became harder and harder to make ends meet. Out-of-state tuition forced me to take out private loans, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford my senior year.

At this time there was a bill being debated in the Colorado State legislature. A bill Mike Johnston worked on tirelessly passed, allowing undocumented students like me to pay in-state tuition for the first time.

Because of Mike, I went back to school for that final year. With his help, I became the first in my family to graduate with a four-year degree.

Graduating college was just the beginning – this email is getting long so I’ll tell you more later. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about another first day of school that changed me forever — my first day with Teach for America. And, how I met Mike, years after he first began fighting for students like me.

–Marissa