Every Hoo Has a Story: Learning To Let Go

April 25, 2024 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

Thinking back to a year ago, Katrina Amistad’s eyes swam in tears.

She’d earned a full scholarship to the University of Virginia from Questbridge, a California-based nonprofit “that connects the nation’s most exceptional low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities.” But she was ready to drop out.

Her major was computer science, but she was failing the classes. “It wasn’t the right fit,” she said.

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She dreamed of an escape to Lisbon, Portugal, to “just kickstart my life in another country,” she said. “Maybe that was me just avoiding the issue and running away.”

At the same time, she fretted that so many people were counting on her: her mother, her friends, her high school counselors and everyone who believed in her, including the organization paying for her education nearly 3,000 miles from her home in Tracy, California.

For some first-generation, low-income students, the pressure to earn a degree can be overwhelming. Amistad carried it like a burden bending her shoulders.

One person she talked to convinced her that college is the time to make big mistakes and big changes and not to plod ahead with something she doesn’t want. That was the permission she needed to reset.

She switched majors to cognitive science, but there was a catch: Her scholarship wasn’t open-ended, and her mom wasn’t able to fund a fifth year. The change also meant switching schools, from the School of Engineering and Applied Science to the College of Arts & Sciences, which added a few new requirements.

So, to get back on track last summer, Amistad compressed two years of language classes into eight weeks. She studied Russian nine hours a day, five days a week. On Saturday and Sunday, she worked her part-time job, seven hours each day.

As hard as that summer was, she’d faced tough times in high school, too. Like many teenagers, she wanted freedom, but the pandemic confined her to a small space with her mother. The proximity bred tension.

It's closer than you think. University of Virginia Northern Virginia
It's closer than you think. University of Virginia Northern Virginia

“Out of spite to my mother, we were actually in an argument when I was in high school,” Amistad said. “I was like, ‘You are not going to pay a penny for my college degree, and you are not going to support me at all.’ And that was so I could distance myself as an independent teenager.”

When it came time to take her first UVA classes online, she left her mother’s home and moved in with a relative. A year later, she was thousands of miles away in Charlottesville.

If you’ve read this far, yes, this might seem like a bleak moment for Amistad and her mother. But stick with us a few moments longer. We promise it has a happy ending. 

Amistad shared her four years of ups and downs with us on the Lawn recently, just 30 days before Final Exercises. This time of year, UVA Today often publishes profiles on graduating students suggested to us by their deans, professors or advisers. But this series, “Every Hoo Has a Story,” is a little different. We simply placed two chairs in the middle of Grounds and asked students about their UVA experiences.

Although Amistad had decided to change her major, she still needed to tell her mom. She braced for a long-distance lecture. “Instead,” Amistad remembered, “she was really supportive. She was like, ‘Please go study something that you like.’”

Part of Amistad’s UVA journey included mending ties with her mother who sacrificed so much to get her to the precipice of graduation with a job waiting in Washington.

Like so many mother-daughter relationships, time and distance fostered understanding and forgiveness. And the woman Amistad once longed to leave, well, she can’t wait to see her at graduation.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications