By: Esmeralda Ortiz
Lucydalila Cedillo moved to Boyle Heights from Lincoln Heights when she was 13 years old. She was raised in the Pico-Aliso housing development, the daughter of immigrant parents.
This year, the 21 Year-old graduated from UC Davis as the top-graduating senior, winning a University medal as well as a $2,000 honorarium. She says the medal she was awarded is a gift from her to her parents to appreciate all their support.
Cedillo earned straight A’s in all 26 of her classes, and graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. She says she had a love for education at a young age.
“Ever since I was very little I was just fascinated by learning and I really liked school,” she says. While her parents have just a middle school education, she says they supported her in following her dreams.
This fall Cedillo is beginning a doctoral program at Harvard University. She will receive a fully paid tuition from the Biological and Biomedical Sciences PHD Program at Harvard University. Boyle Heights Beat spoke to her about her journey, her struggles and her hopes for the future.
What was your biggest motivation growing up?
My biggest motivation would probably be my parents because they were immigrants from Mexico. They sacrificed a lot for my brother and I to be here. They left their family behind and left everything that was known to them to come to some foreign country with the hopes that they would open the door of opportunities for us. They didn’t give up on me, so I can’t give up on them.
Were you inspired by anyone in particular, besides your parents?
Yes, that would be my professor, Dr. Thomas Samula. He was my instructor for my very first quarter as a freshman for an introductory animal science course. I just really loved the way he taught. He was very approachable, and so friendly and willing to help in anything I needed. He even recently helped me with my graduate school applications. He influenced my decision to become a professor and geneticist. He completely opened my eyes to genetics.
Where you always a strong student in school?
Yes, ever since I was very little, even pre-school because I was just fascinated by learning and I really liked school. I remember my mom saying that first day, the majority of the kids were crying and I was the only one that actually sat down and started reading. I just have this joy of learning.
Did you ever feel like giving up at any point in your life?
I’d be lying if I said no. I’d say my freshman year at UC Davis. My first quarter was really rough. I mean, my parents didn’t go to college and I didn’t know what to expect. I felt as if everyone else was a lot smarter than me. I didn’t feel like I belonged. Not a lot of people here grew up where I did. I did think about dropping out of school but maybe just like for a split second. Dr. Samula pointed me to the right resources on campus and just encouraged me to just give it my all and that’s what I did. It was also a combination of being away from my family for the very first time. It was just so many emotions. But I ended up staying and I’m glad I did.
How did your family feel about you going away to college?
They were just really proud… me graduating high school and then going off to University of California, for one of the best animal science programs in the nation. I mean that was a pretty proud moment for them and they were just really happy for me. My dad is really adventurous. He was all for it and more focused on the best education. My mom wanted me close to her.
Did you face any greater challenges because you were Latina?
No, not at my school, I could image that being an issue elsewhere. I usually just interact with everyone as best I can you. My dad taught us to respect everyone. He used to quote from Benito Juarez, a former Mexican president. He said, “El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz ” meaning “respect for the rights of others is peace.“
Was it difficult coming from a community Like Boyle Heights, which is largely Hispanic, to a much smaller Hispanic population at UC Davis?
I mean it was a change. It didn’t bother me, but I kind of struggled with it when I first came here. I like to talk about what I’d do with my friends in my neighborhood and like soccer and eating my mom’s food. It’s just getting out of my comfort zone I’d say. It’s just part of that growth, of coming to a university where you are exposed to a lot more. It’s just trying to understand different viewpoints and different perspectives.
Is there anything you would like to tell Boyle Heights teens/youth?
Just don’t give up. Keep trying. Dream big. Something that I found that was very important was to never be afraid to ask questions. That’s what my dad taught me and I feel that’s really what got me through. I had the courage to talk to my professors and approach them, with problems that I had whether it was just being stressed in general or anything on the class material.
What are your hopes for the future?
Right now I will be joining Harvard University’s Biological and biomedical science PHD Program to pursue a PHD in genetics. What I want to do is be a professor and do research regarding genetic disorders. I want to be like the professors that I look up to here (at UC Davis), both excelling as a lecturer and as a researcher.
Do you have any plans to do something in your own neighborhood?
Ideally I would like to come back and be at a position in some university close to where I live right here in Boyle Heights. I’d hope to maybe do something for my community so that we can make sure that kids stay in school and give them the opportunity and the mentors that they need and help get people like us into universities representing us. I feel like it’s very important to start young make sure you understand and emphasize the importance of your education.