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Finding and Building Community at UC Berkeley

On the eve of graduation, TAAP Scholars Magali Venegas and Justin Hogenauer share their stories.

December 17, 2021
group of five taap scholars

The Achievement Award Program’s (TAAP) 22nd Recognition Dinner took place this year on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. This annual event brought together TAAP scholars, alumni, and donors to foster community, honor guests, and celebrate the accomplishments of scholars. This year’s theme was “community”, and offered an opportunity for the TAAP network to come together in person and celebrate for the first time since the pandemic. We invite you to read excerpts of their speeches below.

Magali Venegas

Magali Venegas

“The body…is the vessel that holds our histories and our stories,” said Magali Venegas // Cal Alumni Association / Johanna Romero

The body stands for more than flesh and appearance, it is the vessel that holds our histories and our stories. My body holds a history of intersecting identities that travel beyond what’s visible to the human eye.

I immigrated to the States with my parents at the age of one with no memories of the place I grew up to know as my true home: Oaxaca. I would soon come face to face with the tribulations that come from being undocumented in this country and come across individuals who wanted to define my history and belittle my identity.

My elementary school self didn’t know she would be falsely identified as a disabled kid and sent to special education classes simply because the only language she understood was Spanish. My middle school self didn’t know she wouldn’t be able to visit Europe with the rest of her friends because she was identified as an illegal alien. My high school self didn’t know she would be shamed for being undocumented and stripped of her salutatorian title.

This is a history of my identity I did not embrace for fear of being rejected. That changed when I stepped foot onto the Berkeley campus. I realized I had gained access to a privilege I never thought I would have as an undocumented first-generation Oaxaquena. Little did I know the true challenge was just beginning. That challenge presented itself in my first UGBA discussion, during my freshman fall semester.

I was the only Latina in the room. The GSI began the class by explaining that our grade depended on competitive participation. She proceeded to display quiz-like questions on the projector. Within seconds, the majority of the room already had their hands raised while I was barely comprehending what was being asked. I felt incompetent and unworthy of the space I was taking in that room. All I could hear were the distant voices of those who rejected me and fixed me as the illegal alien and the poor Oaxaquita girl. I thought, Maybe they were right? Did I deserve to be here? Was I capable? I remember leaving that discussion and calling my mother crying, telling her I couldn’t do this. Like any Latina mother, she gave me the life talk. She said, Mija, tu eres mas que suficiente. You are enough. Why stop fighting now, and why hold back? She helped me transform that moment of vulnerability and lack of value into a moment of empowerment.

Mija, tu eres mas que suficiente. You are enough. Why stop fighting now, and why hold back?

—Magali VeNEGAS’S mother, to her child

I later was accepted into the Haas School of Business. I used my privilege at this institution to build communities that helped others avoid the feeling I felt after that discussion. And so my journey to create inclusive and diverse spaces began.

This illegal alien helped build a Decal Sophomore year designed to help underrepresented students gain exposure to the many avenues of business. This first-generation girl co-led a diversity initiative to increase the representation of Latinx students into the Haas School of Business. This poor Oaxaquita girl founded the first consulting organization dedicated to Black Indigenous POC students and businesses. Paragon Consulting is my proudest accomplishment. It stands for the individuals who, despite their struggles as underrepresented, low-income, and first-generation students, remain models of excellence and perfect examples of what our community is capable of achieving.

I’m honored to stand before you today to tell you what my mother told me, that you are enough. Do not let the name-calling, the racial slurs, the insults hold you back from leaving your mark. Use your privilege at this institution to take space and make space for others, and build communities that make others feel worthy of the space they take.

Thank you to The Achievement Award Program for giving me the privilege to experience Berkeley debt-free. And to all the alumni and donors present today, please continue to invest in student voices. Your continued support enables our ambitions for change. Use your privilege to carve the next generation of success stories.

Justin Hogenauer

Justin Hogenauer
Justin Hogenauer shared his Four-Word Story: “Turning dreams into realities.” // Cal Alumni Association | Johanna Romero

As a Resident Assistant in the dorms, I’ve had to introduce myself as a senior over a hundred times to my first-year residents, but I still do a double-take every time I say it out loud. Am I really already about to finish up my last year of college as an undergraduate? The definite answer is “yes”, but I cannot help but reminisce on all the wonderful things I have been able to do during my time at Berkeley.

When I was accepted to Cal, one of the first opportunities I took advantage of was applying for a CAA scholarship. And because of my affiliation with CAA’s Alumni Scholar Program, I got an email saying that I joined the Cal’s Alumni Association in Summer 2018, which was before I even enrolled in my first semester at Berkeley. So I like to say that I was a Cal Alumni before I was a UC Berkeley Student.

I came into college being told that these would be the best years of my life. And I can say with confidence that despite the fires and blackouts, not to mention a global pandemic, I have genuinely enjoyed my time at UC Berkeley. I can look back on it knowing that I made the most out of my time in college.

I came to the campus as a wide-eyed society and environment student in the then College of Natural Resources. Today, I am pursuing simultaneous degrees in both business and environmental studies. I am also a proud Thai-American, EOP, DSP, and ROTC student. Because of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to have taken Thai-language courses here at Cal, one of only eight colleges in the United States to offer such a language program.

Recently, a mentor asked me, “Justin, what is your four-word story?” I paused for a second, thinking to myself, “Four words? Do I only get one word for each whole year of college here?” Then through our discussion, it became clear what my four-word story was, “Turning Dreams Into Realities.”

I come from a low-income family. But I also come from an immigrant, single-parent household, and I am the person I am today because of the community that raised me. There is a proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I couldn’t agree more, but when you come from a small immigrant family, you do not always have a village to work with. For me, that village was my mom and sister.

I am the first in my family to join the military as an Officer. I am joining the Air Force because I want to pursue a career in public service, but I only thought about the military because I was looking for ways to afford a college education. Coming to a top university like UC Berkeley was also a dream of mine, and CAA has made that dream come true. I would not be here without the financial support that I have received from generous supporters like CAA and my respective donors. If you talked with freshman-year Justin at the TAAP dinner in 2018, you would have known that his greatest dream was to eventually become a military pilot. That’s how he convinced Mary Tuncer, a generous supporter of the Alumni Scholars Program, to offer him a summer job as a camp counselor at her Space Camp in Izmir, Turkey. Fast forward to today, and I can say with confidence: Justin Hogenauer was accepted for the U.S. Air Force pilot training program, and he will become a pilot.

Berkeley helped make that dream become a reality. To all the alumni who are in the room, please continue mentoring scholars and giving back. To my fellow scholars, keep dreaming big, reach out for support and know you absolutely belong here. Thank you!