Vassar College 2014, B.A. in Sociology
UC Hasting College of The Law 2017, JD
Eliana Corona graduated from Eastside in 2010. Post- graduation, she made the almost 3,000 mile journey to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where she studied Sociology and Italian.
She originally chose Vassar because it shared certain qualities with Eastside. However, when she first arrived there, it seemed to be more unfamiliar than she had anticipated.
“In the beginning, [college] was very difficult just because I was homesick a lot and many times I thought, ‘what am I doing here?’ I’m the first in my family to go to college. My parents were always very encouraging, but I felt like they didn’t understand that I didn’t feel like I belonged there, that this is not for me. But they were the ones that kept pushing, telling me ‘No, you have to stay. You’ve made it this far, you’re there for a reason, you got in for a reason, and you’re ready for this.’ They just kept reminding me about everything Eastside had done to help prepare us for college. And it really did show. I remember the first assignment I ever got was a five-page essay, and everyone was freaking out about it, but I had just come from writing a 25 page paper in SRI… and I was like oh okay this is easy.”
Her family was her motivation to stay despite a rough beginning, but they were also her motivation to start college in the first place. Her parents had left everything in Mexico to come to the U.S. Growing up, everything was focused on and around education. She recalls her parents saying, “Education will open doors to many opportunities. Education is the key to success;” and because of that, she felt that college was never an option, it was a necessity. When the time came to start thinking about where to go to high school, she assumed she would just go to the public high school where all her friends were going to go. However, one of her teachers had a different idea. At parent-teacher conferences, that teacher told her dad about a school called Eastside. Her dad went home, did some research, and found out Eastside was a college preparatory school. He knew Eliana had to go there. She, however, was a little skeptical.
“I was very hesitant. I just wanted to go with my friends to the local high school. But in a way he and my mom kind of forced me to apply to Eastside. Once I got in, it was a no-brainer – I’m going to Eastside.”
Eliana’s parents trusted Eastside to help give their child the education they couldn’t. “[My parents] put all their trust in Eastside – ‘whatever teachers want, whatever teachers recommend. If Eastside tells you to do it, then you do it because they’re going to prepare you. Even if you have to stay after 5, if they say so, then you stay as a late as they tell you.’” She heeded her parents’ advice and worked hard to get to college and show them their hard work was not done in vain.
Their encouragement continued far past her time at Eastside, and with her parents’ constant love and reminders, Eliana was able to outlast her homesickness and had a great time in college despite initial trepidation. Given Vassar’s smaller school setting with the average class size around 32 students, she was able to easily find friends and community. “Wherever you live, your floor becomes almost like your family.” In fact, Vassar has a big sib program, where each new student is paired with older students. “You have someone to go to; and during the first semester, you meet with them every week and you also do group activities--it was amazing!” She was starting to find a home away from home. Once she made it through her homesickness and adopted a more open-mindset about where she was, she met many of her close friends in her dorm and felt fully welcomed by Vassar as a whole. “When I went to class, everyone was willing to help, and you could connect with people who were very diverse. That really helped me build a community.”
Her community and learning were not limited to just on campus, however. She also had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy and developed more strong friendships with the other students she studied abroad with. “I loved [studying abroad]!... I loved learning about the culture… and all our classes were in Italian.” Her love of learning about other cultures pushed her to explore more of Europe while she was abroad, and she was able to experience her studies beyond the classroom in the real world.
Vassar and Italy were miles away from Eastside, but that did not stop Eliana from using her resources back home. She continued to be in contact with Eastside’s alumni team. In fact, they helped her realize that she wanted to go to law school. She remembers coming back after graduation to meet with April Alvarez. During their meeting, Eliana mentioned she had enjoyed her AP Government class at Eastside and that she was generally intrigued by government and politics. She also expressed an interested in immigration because of her parents’ experiences. April shared a Hewlett Packard summer program with her that sounded interesting, but she was not sure about it at first. “[I thought] Hewlett Packard is this prestigious, well-known company! I’m not qualified, what am I going to do there besides probably embarrass Eastside. But April kept pushing me to apply.” So Eliana applied, and she was offered the position. Her experience there helped open her mind and show her that law could be a potential career option for her. From that summer on, Eliana returned to the alumni office to find other summer internships, including ones at Fenwick & West and Bay Area Legal Aid. Eliana worked on the immigration team during her summer with Bay Area Legal Aid, “and that’s when I realized that this is what I want to do.”
When Eliana started looking at law schools to apply to, she knew she could ask April and Kate [Hiester] of the Alumni team for guidance. “They said ‘whatever help you need, we’re here for you.’...Between both of them, they helped me decide which schools I should apply to, and they were always there to read my personal statements. They never said no.” Even after Eliana was accepted to law school, they were there to help. This time they encouraged her to apply for scholarships. Sometimes Eliana would come up with every reason not to apply for a scholarship: it’s too competitive, it has too many essays, I’ll never get it, etc., but they were there to remind her that she could do it and that she was qualified to apply. One scholarship in particular that they encouraged her to apply for was for $30,000. She applied despite her many reasons not to. She made a good choice because she was awarded that same scholarship. “When I say Eastside helped me, I really mean it.”
After graduating from Vassar, she returned home to the Bay Area to start law school at The University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She moved back in at home and adjusted pretty quickly. She had kept in touch with her close friends from Eastside and found it easy to fall back into the rhythms of her old friendships, “All my friends live in the Bay Area, so it was not hard at all to come back…. I remained in touch with them, and when we were all back for the summer we would all go out for dinner or coffee, just catching up.” What also helped her adjust quickly was still being a student. “It wasn’t that much adapting [to moving home] because I was still doing school and not working.”
While adjusting to living back at home came easily to Eliana, the first year of law school did not. “I think I was prepared for law school, but I don’t think I was ready for it.” The first year challenged her perception of what it meant to to be a student, how to read, write, and study.
“It was like nothing I was ready to do. My whole concept of how to read a book was different because it was now all case law, and I had never read case law or analyzed any cases…. And the way you write is so different from how I wrote in college.”
This new academic style initially shook her confidence. “There were many times in the first year, where, again, I was like ‘what am I doing here? This is not for me, I’m not qualified for this.” Her thoughts and fears were exacerbated by the fact that many of her classmates’ parents were lawyers, and some of them even had a number of generations of lawyers in their family paving the way for them. They were ready to delve into whatever assignment they were given while Eliana learned to read case law for the first time. No one in her family was a lawyer or even went to college. But that did not stop them from continuing to be her source of support. “They, specifically my mom and dad, were always there encouraging me when I would go to them and tell them, ‘I’m not going to do this, I want to drop out. I can’t do this.’” But they responded only with encouragement, “No you can do this. If it were easy, everyone would do this.” She felt especially discouraged when it took her hours to get through one case, and even after reading it several times, she still was not sure if she understood it. She recalled thinking, “I’m going to fail the final, I’m going to fail all my finals. I’m never going to graduate, I might as well drop out now before I’m two years in.” But, again, her family was there to respond, and they pushed her to keep going. Her dad encouraged her, “If it takes you 2-3x to read a case and you don’t understand it, read it the fourth, read it the fifth time. However many times it takes you to read it, you read it, but you cannot give up.” With their support and encouragement holding her up, she persevered through her first year of law school all the way to the end. She made it through law school to graduation day, something she considers to be one of the greatest achievements in her life so far.
“Well, first, [my greatest achievement] was graduating from college because I definitely doubted myself so many times…. Once I actually graduated from college and was the first in my family, showing my parents that their sacrifices were worth it - here is the diploma. That was one of the proudest moments for me.”
Then she went to law school and one-upped herself. “Graduating from law school beat that a little bit,” she said with a smile.
She also believes that if you want to go to law school, you can. And not only can you go, you can succeed there.
“Don’t sell yourself short…. It was a lot of learning that I am qualified, and I am prepared to finish law school or to even be in law school. Just because people in your family have never done this before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It’s true – if it were easy, everyone would do it…. [Law school] does take a lot of hard work, but if it’s something you really want, you should work hard for it, no matter what it takes.”
She also wants you to know that the first year is the hardest, but it gets easier. “The first year is a culture shock…. It’s completely different from college. Basically, everything I learned in college went out the window, and they teach you how to do everything.” And if you feel like you are the only one who needs to ask for help to understand, you’re not. “You’re not alone. If you need help, just ask for it.” At first she was felt nervous going to her professors after class because she felt like the only one. But she wasn’t.
“No one else is lining up at their office, why am I the only one? [Professors] are going to think I don’t know what I’m doing, but no! Everyone asks questions, and if [professors] are there, you have resources that are willing to help you, so take advantage of them. Why spend four hours researching on your own, uselessly, when you could just go to office hours and save three hours.”
Use your resources, believe in yourself, work hard, and ask for help, and you can succeed.
Post law school graduation, Eliana worked a clerkship in the attorney general’s honors program at the San Francisco Immigration Court for 14 months. There, she worked with different judges who were seeing a variety of immigration relief cases. She would draft the judges’ decisions, look up case law, research, and answer questions. That clerkship ended in January of 2019, and now she is interested in exploring policy work related to immigration. “Especially now with what’s going on with the administration and immigration world, I want to see what’s happening on the policy side.” She’d like to explore the vastness of immigration law, but in the end she thinks she would want to do immigration advocacy. “That’s where my passion is.” She’s excited to explore different options, some that might take her as far as New York or Washington D.C.
When she looks back at her life up to this point, she realizes how much of it was because of the encouragement of others.
“For my parents specifically, I knew that they’ve sacrificed so much so that I could accomplish my goals, to go to college and then go to law school. So for them to hold me accountable...they would say ‘Every time you want to give up, just remember why you started.’ I started because of them. Because I wanted them to know that their sacrifices were not in vain. That I was going to be the lawyer they sacrificed everything for.”
Between their reminders and her own, she knew she couldn’t give up halfway: she had to finish. Her friends also supported her throughout her life.
“Most of them were from Eastside [and some from Vassar] and when I would doubt myself they would say, ‘no, you got this. You can do this. You’ve made it this far.’ And their support and words of encouragement meant more to me than they know. They genuinely wanted to see me succeed and were always there to celebrate my accomplishments, or to lift me up when I felt discouraged. Having people not only holding me accountable for finishing what I started, but also believing in me and reminding me that I had the ability to become a lawyer, gave me that push. I made it this far for a reason, I can finish it and accomplish my goal. I needed that push…. If they believed in me, then I should believe in myself and not just throw in the towel at the first challenge I see.”
And when you think you’re alone, know that Eliana is rooting for you too, just like her family and friends did for her.
“#1, don’t doubt yourself. You’re in a specific position for a reason. You’ve graduated from Eastside. Eastside was not a breeze. It was very challenging. It was very difficult, but you made it through. You got admitted [to college] for a reason over, maybe, someone else. You’re qualified, and you’re ready. Even when the road gets tough, just keep working hard and don’t give up. Again, they say, if it was easy, everyone would do it and that’s so true. It is hard. No one is sugarcoating it saying it’s going to be easy or you’re going to do it right away. But it’s going to be worth it at the end - all the struggles, all the challenges, all the sleepless nights - they’re definitely worth it at the end. Just picture yourself already there and you’re basically halfway there.”
What’s next for Eliana?
First, she’d like to focus on policy work.
“I don’t know exactly what yet, but I’m so focused on and passionate about immigration reform, especially given what’s been going on now. Knowing that I can make a difference - I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. I see how lawyers have the ability to do that….and working in policy can change dozens and hundreds of lives if a policy reform gets passed.”
In the next 10 years, she would like to live in New York for a few years and Washington D.C. for a few years. Eventually, she’d like to settle in East Palo Alto, back to the community she grew up in. But whatever comes, she's ready.
“While I am not sure where I will be in the next year or ten years from now, I do know that this is only the beginning. My career is just getting started and like my dad told me, my education will open many doors. And from my past experience, I know this to be true. It has already opened so many doors that I never expected possible.”
For now, she wants you to know that all she does is for you and because of you, saying to all the people who encouraged and supported her “Because of you, I am here.”