For Ainhoa Leal, the path to college was not an easy one, despite their enrollment at one of the most prestigious private schools in the county, La Jolla Country Day. 

“My freshman year at Country Day came with a set of challenges that I never knew I would face,” Leal recalled in their speech at The San Diego Foundation’s 2021 Virtual Community Scholarships Celebration. “I remember my first week breaking down, confused and uneasy, and having my parents come to school to comfort me. My parents later explained to me what I was experiencing, which was culture shock.”

Despite that initial obstacle, Community Scholars Initiative scholarship recipient Leal persevered, thanks to the support of their family, school staff and mentorship through the Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI) and MANA de San Diego (MANA)’s Hermanitas program. 

“They have not achieved their brand of quiet and thoughtful leadership without obstacles, but have overcome them with a particular blend of humility, grace and fortitude,” stated La Jolla Country Day School officials when Leal was awarded the Donald L. Leavenworth Award that recognizes seniors who have demonstrated inner drive and determination in a commitment to achieve a goal and demonstrated steadfastness and courage in seeking that goal. 

First-generation student

Leal acknowledged the breadth and depth of assistance they received during their college-going journey.

“I was extremely fortunate to have a school that went into detail about the college process plus the additional help from BLCI and MANA, and for that, I will always be thankful,” Leal said during the virtual ceremony. “When the time came to start college applications, the anxiety and excitement started to settle. Once I was finished with all my applications, I felt accomplished because I put my foot in the door to being the first in my family to go to college.”

Despite all the assistance, it was a blow to Leal when they realized they wouldn’t be able to afford attendance at any of the four-year colleges and universities they were accepted to, including their top choice, DePaul University in Chicago.

“Between what I had received from schools in financial aid to what my parents would be able to pay and the scholarships I had received, I started to feel sad and disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to afford college,” Leal said during the ceremony. 

Thankfully, their BLCI counselor brought up Grossmont College, a community college in San Diego’s East County with a well-regarded transfer track and support services for Latinx and LGBTQ+ students. While it wasn’t the four-year university they had initially envisioned, Leal acknowledged that it was still reaching the goal others had hoped for them — they just took another route. 

“It felt like a setback that I wouldn’t be able to attend a big university,” Leal said. “I have set a new goal for myself which is to transfer to a UC or CSU school in LA to get into their film and media programs. I realize that my journey is just getting started and I will make sure to make myself and my community proud.” 

Career aspirations

In addition to their schoolwork, Leal is violin 1 with the San Diego Youth Symphony, and was a leader in two student organizations dedicated to diversity at La Jolla Country Day: Spectrum Alliance Group and the Student Diversity Leadership Committee. They were also an important contributor to equity, visibility and inclusivity programming at the school through Visibility Week and the annual Hope Conference.

Leal plans to continue their commitment to diversity as they pursue their college and career ambitions.

“I hope to work in film and media as a tv/film producer to uplift Latinx and LGBT+ voices within the television and film space,” Leal shared. 

Community support

Thanks to the support of their community and scholarship donors at The San Diego Foundation, Leal is able to pursue that goal. 

Additionally, they will continue to receive support from The Foundation’s Community Scholars Initiative, which helps hundreds of young San Diegans prepare for, pay for and persist through college. The initiative is closely tied to The Foundation’s Strategic Plan priority dedicated to fostering equity of opportunity by enhancing opportunities to obtain college degrees for underrepresented San Diegans.

Learn more about the Community Scholars Initiative and the Community Scholarship Program.