Bryan Briones’ beaming smile is just as contagious as his gratitude and enthusiasm for life and his journey to Westmont. He is a first-generation college student. This May he will graduate with a Bachelor’s in kinesiology. For Bryan, walking the stage May 2 is a landmark in his family’s legacy.
“My dad came to the States when he was 14. That was a really big transition for him from Mexico and the fact that he came by himself with only two pairs of shorts, a shirt, and his passport […] Probably one of my dad’s biggest fears was us to live the way he lived and in survival mode,” Bryan pauses, “That gives me motivation to continue working hard in that aspect that my dad sacrificed everything in what he had back home to start a new life here.” Bryan grew up in Santa Barbara and attended Providence High School. At first, academic pursuits past high school wasn’t a focus for Bryan until his senior year.
However, after graduating high school, Bryan watched many friends continue to higher education and he found himself stuck, discouraged, and unsure of how to begin the process. Bryan recalls, “I’m still here and I’d love to go to college, but one: I don’t have the grades and two: I don’t know what the process is like.” And unlike many of his friends, Bryan did not have information at home to ask application-related questions. Bryan recalls beginning applications and bringing instructions home from his counselor, “There was a lot of confusion from [my parents], ‘I can’t help you. I didn’t go through this.’”
Asking questions and asking for help wasn’t easy, especially with the value of determination so rooted in Bryan’s family’s history and identity. However, once Bryan graduated from high school, he began to discover his own motivation: “I had it so easy that I took it for granted. Now that it’s getting touch, I shouldn’t quit. Seeing how far my parents come, I wanted to give them [a] reason of why they were still here, that they didn’t come for no reason. We were going to do this and move forward.”
After a couple of semesters at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC), Bryan began to fall in love with learning. Slowly, asking questions and for help became more normal for Bryan. In the fall of 2017, a Westmont representative came to SBCC and Bryan decided to apply to transfer to Westmont. Bryan recalls the moment he received his acceptance to Westmont, “I finally got accepted and it was this big moment which honestly felt like I had graduated from college in my parents’ eyes. For me it wasn’t a moment that I was going to college — it was that we’re going to college. My parents and I are going to college.”
Beginning at his time at SBCC and continuing throughout his Westmont career Bryan learned the freedom of learning at his own pace in a challenging academic setting. “I started falling in love with school when I started comparing myself less to people and started focusing more on myself,” Bryan thoughtfully states. “Yeah my friends went off to college, but they were at their own pace, they had a better academic education background at a younger age, I didn’t. Which was hard, but this is where it’s at now and I gotta work with what I have. I started seeing the progress I had”.
To first-generation, transfer, and other students beginning at Westmont, Bryan states, “Just know that you’re not the only one going through this. There’s a lot of people who have gone through this. All these frustrations, irritations, feeling lost. You feel like you’re not worthy of going into school or anything, it’s hard. Just find something that motivates you in order to continue striving for that future success.” Bryan smiles, “I think sometimes in order to work smart, you need to work hard. I guess that’s when you start realizing when you’ve worked hard, you see how far you’ve gone.”