“Hola, yo soy un terapeuta ocupacional…” (Hello, I am an occupational therapist). This is part of my weekly introduction with Spanish-speaking clients. It is also a reminder of the reason I pursued this profession, as well as the sacrifices my family and I have made over the last three years. Walking into a room or simply calling a new client and starting a conversation in Spanish puts a smile on my face. Every time I speak to one of my clients, I picture my mom and dad. It feels incredible to be able to advocate for people who come from a similar background as mine.
During my time at USC, I have shared many personal things with you all. I understand the privilege of being able to write and freely express myself on this platform. Not everyone gets this opportunity, so I wanted to show that my experience as an undocumented student is as valid as anyone’s. That it is okay for those reading to feel proud of their language, culture, and history. That you belong in this program and profession.
Today I write to you just a couple of days away from walking the stage for my doctoral program. It feels really strange to say that; I think it’s the impostor syndrome that lingers. My family and friends still need to remind me that this is a huge accomplishment and to take a moment to celebrate. But those who know me pretty well know that I think this is just another step in what’s to come. First-generation, undocumented students are capable of so much, and for me, it’s time to capitalize on that. This is the end of one journey but the beginning of a new one.
This grad school journey has not been easy at all. Some semesters I wasn’t even sure I would be back given the financial limitations and ongoing immigration rhetoric surrounding DACA. The people around me made it possible to pursue this dream. There are so many who helped me along the way, and I want to acknowledge them as best as possible.
- Mi familia, gracias por todo, I love you so much. My parents are the most courageous people I know. Growing up, they always told my sister and me to study hard because we would end up like them if we didn’t. But as I grow older, all I want to do is be like them. Thank you to my sister and my girlfriend for always being there for me. The sleepless nights studying and finishing assignments was all for them.
- The CSUN Dream Center, I am forever grateful for your mentorship and for giving me the confidence to even apply to USC. You made me believe that I could accomplish my goals despite my undocumented status.
- Thank you to the Chan Division, Norman Topping Family, Latino Alumni Association, and Immigranted for supporting me when I had no idea how I would pay for OT school. You all made this moment possible.
- Thank you to the LRCC Research Lab and the Student Ambassadors team; it has been an honor to work with two outstanding teams. During the pandemic, these two teams faced many obstacles, adjusted, and we got things done! I have worked with two of the best bosses in the Chan Division, Kim Kho and Dr. Beth Pyatak.
- Thank you to all my classmates who challenged me and helped me grow. A special thank you to Katie Bui and Marilyn Rodriguez, two people who always had my back since day one.
- Lastly, a special thank you to Dr. Celso Delgado (el profe). You became a mentor to me throughout this entire OT experience. You reminded me that I belong in these spaces, that a Latinx kid from Van Nuys could make it.
So, this it! I have never been good at saying goodbye; I tend to simply move on and take on whatever is next. I want to take a final moment to honor my ancestors and the generational sacrifices that it took for me to get to this point. This right here is what our parents believed in as they decided to migrate. But I don’t want to be remembered as “the successful immigrant” because all immigrants, undocumented people, etc. deserve the same level of respect and acknowledgment as the “educated ones.” I had different opportunities and circumstances. Para toda mi gente Latinx y indocumentada, este logro es por todos ustedes, nosotros seguiremos luchando y echandole ganas. Although I don’t know for certain what my future looks like in this country, I do know one thing, that I will always continue to Fight On! No one can ever take away what I’ve accomplished these past years and my soon-to-be title, Dr. Daniel Padilla Vega.
Not All Goodbyes Are Bitter >
May 10, 2021
I cannot believe graduation is this week! We often view goodbyes as a gloomy moment, but it does not have to be that way. Some goodbyes are actually good! For me, this goodbye means that it is time to close one chapter as I transition to another. But it does not necessarily mean that I am parting ways. Everything that I have gained will stay with me — the friends, memories, experiences, knowledge, professional relationships. I will cherish them no less than I do now.
Here was August of 2019 at our whitecoat ceremony. That was an extra special day because we defeated the treacherous (I mean, “intensive”) first summer! We were glowing because we finally got some rest. After putting on that whitecoat, my OT journey officially began. I stood next to some pretty Rockstar people too! Knowing that I would enter a career field with them was comforting. I have found that It is the people around you that truly make your experiences great.
To all of my friends (within the program and outside of it), thank you for being by my side, thank you for understanding when I missed your call, thank you for staying on the phone with me for 3+ hours when I returned your call, thank you for sending me housewarming gifts when I first moved to California, thank you for sending me words of encouragement while I studied for the GRE, thank you for studying at Norris Library with me and creating bizarre mnemonics, thank you for going to the flower district with me and helping me become a plant mother, thank you for game nights and movie nights. Thank you for being my friend.
Not to be dramatic with the picture captions but, my parents are my Day 1’s! My biggest supporters! My everything! Thank you to my mom and dad for all that you have done and continue to do. Though neither of you pursued college and thus, do not have first hand experience about the challenges, you have done everything in your power to support my higher education (even if that meant accepting that I would move 2k miles away TWICE). No matter how far, I have always felt your warmth. I am so incredibly thankful to have parents like you. Nothing I can say or do will accurately show how much I love you.
To my team: We did not know exactly what we were signing up for. Chan has never had a set of ambassadors through a COVID pandemic. But, we did that! Along with LOTS of help from Kim Kho (the most caring supervisor ever), we figured it out. Thank you all for being so helpful, collaborative, and fun! It has been a pleasure to work with you, share a group chat with you, and share a meal with you. This experience would not be the same without you.
I will admit, my eyes watered a bit while reflecting and writing out my thank you’s. But, it was happy tears! I just feel so incredibly grateful to have such amazing people in my life. My experience as a USC Chan Master’s student was phenomenal because of YOU! Thank you to everyone that has read my blogs, left comments, and written emails. It has been so special to connect with you all in this way. Keep on fighting on!
With all my love,
I Don’t Say This Everyday But . . . >
May 7, 2021
We spent how many hours on Zoom every day for 9 months, yet it wasn’t until the last day of classes when I realized just how much I’m going to miss my MA1 classmates. What we thought was only going to be a temporary virtual learning setup has been stretched to a whole academic year. Even though this was surely nothing close to how we imagined going through graduate school, still, for some reason, it went our way because we are finishing in A WEEK! It just weirdly feels a little short. I’m still at a loss for words, just like how I was when I was trying to write my very first blog. What words could possibly capture how great of an adventure it has been?
A couple of months ago we were all just a bunch of strangers trying to find a place in this new world. It’s one thing to find acceptance; but feeling a sense of belongingness and a feeling of home is a whole different story — one that I’ve found in this wonderful group of people. I have hoped for companionship but what I’ve found is so much more: teamwork, diversity, and nothing but love and support for one another. I’m really so proud of us and all I can think of is — what a time to be in to witness these individuals succeed through challenges! We really embodied that “Fight On!” Trojan spirit, didn’t we? Truly, my experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing because of all the people on the other end of my computer screen. I’m sure you know, but it bears repeating.
Here are some of the unforgettable memories we had in the past year 😊
Of course, my USC Chan experience has been greatly enriched by working with the amazing team of student ambassadors and our supervisor, Kim Kho, who constantly encouraged me to do my best work and really contributed a lot to my growth. I learned A LOT from each and every one of you and I’m so thankful to have been a part of this team!! I also want to thank my dearest family and friends without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. And to all the readers, it has been a pleasure to be able to share this crazy adventure with you all through my blogs and videos.
Now, I shall go back to studying for my comprehensive exams. After graduation, I will be working with Dr. Daniel Park for the Summer OT Immersion program that is happening on July, so I hope to see some of you there! What’s next after that — I don’t quite know yet; but as always, we Fight On Forever!
All the love and well wishes,
Dear Younger Me, >
May 6, 2021
Dear Younger Me,
Where do I start? It is surreal that graduation is in one week! And what a ride this past year has been: home life, school work, and everything in between. I remember moving home at the end of senior year, frustrated at the lack of closure. But every cloud has a silver lining. Can I give you some advice? Hold tightly to every small moment. Cherish watching NCIS with Mom and Dad every night and the regular conversations with them over dinner and walking the dog. Have fun painting your childhood room a color other than purple. Talk with grandma over a socially-distanced meal. It’s amazing that you get to spend this year so close to your family support. And even though it’ll take some time to see them in person again, watch to see which friends you continue to text and FaceTime, the friends that you complain to when life happens. Rekindle old friendships (what better time than an online world?). And thank all of them for getting you through a crazy year.
You’re also a student ambassador! You get to work with an incredibly talented team (that you’ll meet in person eventually!) with the most supportive boss. These are amazing people. Take advantage of the time that you get to work with them, and learn from them. Be creative and honest in your work, and have fun!
This year will fly by faster than you know, and you’ll be closer to being an OT than ever before. During classes and during your first Fieldwork II, be observant and flexible. Build relationships with current (and future) OTs and learn from different perspectives. It’s scary to have to do actual OT things, but you got this! The fifth and final year of this program brings a lot to look forward to.
And keep growing as a human. Can’t wait to see where this next year and beyond will take ya. 😉
Fight On Forever.
P.S. To the others reading this letter: Thank you to my fellow ambassadors for being an amazing team and to Kim for bringing us all together. Thank you to my family and friends for being there for me. And readers, I hope you’ve had fun and learned about USC and OT; thanks for keeping up with me. Keep being your amazing selves. Much love. <3
Closing Time >
May 4, 2021
I knew this time was coming — final blog post and graduation! I cannot believe next week is graduation. These two years flew by so fast and I’ve seen myself grow so much. I’ve met lifelong friends, who can’t get rid of me now because they know far too much about me at this point. I am so excited to see where life takes us and all the amazing things we will do as OTs soon.
I never imagined getting a Master’s degree. If you took a poll at the schools I attended from elementary school to high school and asked “Which student in this classroom can you see in USC’s OT program one day?” it certainly wouldn’t have been me. I am grateful for all of my mentors from elementary school until now who encouraged me and believed in me when I didn’t. I am also thankful for my family, my amazing partner, and friends who’ve been there for me throughout this journey! I couldn’t have done it without you all.
Pictures speak volumes, so here are some of my favorites captured these past two years that make me happy. Prepare for photo dump!
Pictured: the future’s greatest OTs and my best friends! From left to right — Stephanie Gomez-Rubalcava, Raquel Rios, Renee Reinberg, and Lorelei Ritter. We did it! We went from crying in the hot tub of our apartment complex after only knowing each other for one week our first summer to crying tears of laughter. Go us! We’ve shared so many beautiful memories together and I am beyond grateful for each and every one of you. Cheers to us!
The greatest team in the world! Bethany, Calvin, Savi, Daniel, Yna, Lamoni — you are all such kind souls and I really wish we could just work together forever. Special thanks to the amazing Kim Kho — Kim, you are a gem. Ya’ll need to stand behind me on this one. Kim should honestly host a TED talk. You’ve pushed me to be myself, stay creative, and have always made our mental health a priority. A million times thank you! I will miss you all so much.
A FAQ I received this past year was “will I have time for a personal life?”. My answer is always, yes! Sometimes it’ll be a little challenging, but it’s very doable. Personal life consists of so many things — for me, it was making time to spend with my favorite person in the world. A very special shout out to a very special, patient, and goofball of a man my boyfriend, Josh. Thank you for being so supportive and working with my wild schedule!
Pictured: my motivation for everything that I do! My mom, dad, and little sister. Which brings me to the point: anyone else agree it should be illegal for younger siblings to be taller? Anyway, thank you for shaping me into the woman that I am today. You came to this country with nothing, only to give me everything. You painted my wings, we did it.
Bonus picture of my dad. He sent me this picture during my first week in the program — proudly posing at work with his boss’s USC flag. This picture keeps me going. You’ll have your own soon, pa!
Now, the terrifying, yet exciting question: What’s next?! After thinking long and hard, I decided not to go through with the OTD. Financially, it is not within my reach at this moment in time. And, I think it’s time I help my family. So, although I REALLY hope to teach some day, now’s not my time. But, I am hopeful that I will find my way back to reach this goal. For now, I am excited to help provide my parents with health insurance and lift some weight off their shoulders.
My fieldwork educator from the Spring mentioned he may have a position available for me after I get my license, so I will be staying in touch with him. As you all know, I had a blast! So, I am looking forward to going back and some day taking in a fieldwork student 😉 I am excited for what’s to come. And lastly, thank you to all the faculty at Chan whose made my experience truly unforgettable. Fight on!