Thank you LASEO.

It stands for Los Angeles Student Educational Outreach. Yes, very long name, but the mission very simple: we provide mentorship to inner city youth to instill in them a passion to pursue higher education.

I joined this organization randomly as a lost freshmen. It was just another club that had chalked on the board, apps due on this date, email it to this address. Why not? So, I did. When I look back on my college career, living in dorms feels like an eternity ago. Meeting my 1st year roommate? We were babies. Taking my first lower division chemistry class? When even was that?? But when I think about my time with LASEO, it has truly flown by. I cannot believe it was nearly 4 years ago I walked into this family, looking up to the wise old seniors who seemed to have it all together. Now I am one of them, and now it is over. As this year comes to a close week by week, I’ve always isolated myself from the pinnacle of graduation, that the fact my 4 years as an undergraduate is done. Too many exams to worry about, papers to write, obligations to tend. There was never any time to genuinely realize the end was coming closer. But with my last LASEO site and field trip this past week, the first of many chapters of my college career has began to close. As I caught eyes with my student, waiting on the school bus to go home from touring UCLA with me, she gave me a wave and a small smile. My heart ached and was humbled at the same time. Amidst the haze, some things are certain. While we can’t change socioeconomics and school fundings, we can combat academic inequity one bright student at a time through passionate and committed mentorship. And, I gained a family to journey with me from my lost freshmen days trying to find my space on this looming campus to my lost senior year days, overwhelmed with the doubts of my future. I am so lucky.

I have learned immensely from my students. We call them “tutees” since we are their “tutors.” This makes it seem as if the learning is a one way street. It’s not. While from the outside it may seem like I am teaching her math functions so she can get her worksheet stamped, I can see the fire in her eyes when she understands a problem and doesn’t have to ask me for help on the next. Young kids have untainted passions and dreams. While I find myself mindlessly solving chemistry problems and complaining about essays because these are just things I have to get out of the way to reach my ultimate goal of an MD, I am reminded to be mindful of everyday accomplishments and challenges when I see my shy student give a small grin as she solves her way through problems. The fact that their classrooms have concrete floors doesn’t matter. The fact that their books are ragged doesn’t matter. The fact that the classrooms are understaffed and the school receives less than half of what my privileged hometown schools receive doesn’t matter to them. The sense of accomplishment in my student’s eyes are more than obvious when I give her the okay with her problem set. While she has few words and her largest expressions are subtle grins, I know she has a fire inside of her when she talks about how her basketball team won in their last game, how she wants to join all the sports teams in high school, how she can’t go to school dances because she has practice. This is potential and drive I, a privileged spoiled kid growing up, didn’t possess at her age. And while she mostly quietly does her work and I only step in when I see her stumped, all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction for her to crank out the next 10 problems. When she tells me she wants to become a doctor because she wants to help people be healthy, because she helps her older brother when he’s sick right now, I know this is an untainted and raw dream of hers. I know that all the tests, scores, obligatory extracurriculars, and stress won’t knock her down. She shows commitment and determination inside and outside of the classroom.  Through LASEO, I know her well enough. I can only hope that her unjustly underfunded school district and her socioeconomic status that is out of her control doesn’t keep her from thriving. While LASEO doesn’t have the power to change such policies and situations, we do the next best thing – target the students. Put a fire in them. Become their mentors. Show them, hey if I can do it, then there’s absolutely no reason you can’t. You may have hurdles in the future, but, I’ve had them too. They just come in different shapes and sizes. Through this, I absolutely love what LASEO stands for.

As much as I love the mission of LASEO, I would not have stuck with it if it wasn’t for my family I found in this organization. Going to site every Friday is not smooth sail. Something always goes wrong, we don’t get vans, half our tutors bail in the last 10 minutes, we’re late to get funding, socials are awkward, we don’t get enough applications, the list goes on. I was ready to quit during my 2nd year, having entered the staff and the person who was supposed to show me the ropes having quit, my fellow intern and I found ourselves lost. Even something simple as taking attendance was complicated. Planning banquet was a shit show. It was terrifying to speak to the group at the end of every site, in charge of making socials and games that would let everyone bond together. It didn’t seem worth it. But my co-intern kept me in. How am I supposed to do it alone? she asked. So with that, I sucked it up and started another year of LASEO. One of my close friends stepped up as director as her predecessor abandoned the club. Another one lead the finance team as, again, her leaders dropped one by one. These girls and I hesitantly assumed big leadership roles, made so many mistakes, and slowly learned the ropes of leading a small organization. Through the journey, they have become my confidantes. True sisters. We shared the chaotic mess that would always arise before sites, braving the enormous janky vans we would drive our tutors to site in, would always volunteer to not go to site if not enough seats, or clear our schedules if we had to. It’s funny how you think joining staff will be great because of the title, but the sacrifice nearly outweighs the benefits. How easy would it be to just get picked up and go to site and come back every week? But deeper and truer relationships are built through challenges and growth. For this reason, I thank LASEO for the good and the bad, the moments of laughing with my students to the moments of wanting to just throw it all out the window. Through each and every up and down, I became a better person with better people. For that, I attribute an enormous aspect of my glorious college career to LASEO.

So thank you LASEO. You are so damn good to me.

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