Being the Difference.
By Emely Tejada Jaquez
My roots begin in Inoa, a town located in San Jose de las Matas, Dominican Republic. Though a small percentage of my life was spent there, it was in this very place where a naïve, optimistic, and younger version of myself once said, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.” At the time the idea may have seemed far-fetched, possibly too ambitious, but definitely not impossible, especially not to my parents.
My parents, Jose and Paula, never took education lightly. Growing up, my mother would hover over my shoulder as I completed my homework, threatening to erase all my work if my handwriting did not meet her expectations. She was strict, and at the time I may have hated it, but she is entirely responsible for my work ethic today.
At a very young age she taught me about hard work and when we moved to Brooklyn, NY in 2002, she defined the meaning of support as we struggled to complete my homework assignments, despite the language barrier, together. All through elementary school and into college I have had teachers, friends and mentors who have pushed me to become the most authentic version of myself.
Today, I am third-year Biochemistry major at Smith College, where I work to accomplish my childhood dream of becoming a physician. I decided to attend Smith College because I realized that I thrive most in small and supportive communities.
Smith College, despite meeting this criteria and providing me with an exceptional education, is predominantly white. Coming from a majority Black and Latino community, this was a huge shift for me. In fact, I suffered from imposter syndrome my first year because I felt like I could not keep up with my peers. I was afraid to ask questions and questioned my intelligence, especially in my science classes. Additionally, I was one of few, sometimes the only woman of color in the room, which created a bigger distance between my classmates and myself.
Now, I realize how important my presence is at a place like Smith College. I know I simultaneously represent the young women of Inoa and Brooklyn, and my immigrant parent’s hard work and sacrifices. My personal battles have further emphasized the importance of community, pushing me to build relationships with my professors and to rely on my peers and family during difficult times. This positive outlook has enhanced my academic experience, and as an aspiring physician-scientist, it has given me the self-assurance to enter into the research and medical world– places where I am most certainly the minority – with confidence.
Therefore, whether I am engineering proteins for applications in cancer drug delivery in a 140,000-square-foot science and engineering building in Massachusetts or developing low-cost training tools to better diagnose and treat cervical cancer in rural Brazil at Rice University, I remember to remind myself that by being different-especially in these spaces-simply means that I am being the difference.
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