When Salvador Limon ’10 first heard he was admitted to UC Berkeley, he thought he was being pranked. “I got a call on April Fool’s Day, and someone told me I’d gotten into Cal,” Salvador recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Someone’s prank calling me. I’ll believe it when I get a letter in the mail.’”
Sure enough, the official letter arrived in the mail the next day.
“When I got [the letter], I thought, ‘This is amazing. All the support—all the sacrifice—meant something.’”
Salvador was born in Mexico. He and his family, most of whom worked as farm workers and factory laborers, immigrated to East Los Angeles where Salvador grew up. “We were poor,” Salvador says. “My parents wanted me to go to college, but they didn’t have the opportunity to provide me with a college education.”
In high school, Salvador was fortunate to have a counselor who provided him with the resources and reassurance that led him to apply to UC Berkeley—and the Cal Alumni Association’s Achievement Award Program (TAAP) scholarship. For Salvador, receiving the TAAP scholarship was what “mathematically gave [him] the ability to attend Cal.”
“Without [TAAP], I still would have gone to college, but with the TAAP scholarship, I was able to access an elite university like Berkeley,” Salvador explains.
At Cal, the students and full-time staff members he met through TAAP quickly became his on-campus community. “Cal can be overwhelming for a kid who is questioning whether he even belongs to a university,” Salvador says. “Being with other people of color who came from similar backgrounds and are also disadvantaged reminded me that I was among peers. We’re all here, supporting one another.”
Through TAAP, Salvador felt there was finally a space for him to seek individualism and think outside the box. His interest in politics and history initially led him to major in political science and consider earning a J.D. after Cal, but his interactions with TAAP’s program managers, directors, and donors drew him to a new path.
“Cal can be overwhelming for a kid who is questioning whether he even belongs to a university. Being with other people of color who came from similar backgrounds and are also disadvantaged reminded me that I was among peers.”
Joani Carpenter, a former director of Alumni Scholarships at the Cal Alumni Association (CAA), played a critical role in helping Salvador discover his new passion. He remembers how she was able to help him identify his interest in education and encouraged him to join Teach for America. When he applied, Joani wrote his recommendation letter, which he later read and thought, “Wow, she really does know me.”
Salvador’s experience with Teach for America prompted him to remain in the classroom, and he is now on his 10th year as an educator. Now, he is the head of the special education department at his school, Alliance Kory Hunter Middle School, where he works with marginalized groups and communities in Los Angeles.
“These students are part of our most vulnerable populations, and in my job, I remind them that they have capacity and help them get into college,” Salvador explains. “I work with educators at our school to implement our special education program, and in the community, I remain active by advocating for educational equity.”
Salvador’s desire to give back to the community, specifically students who come from backgrounds like his, comes from his own history and family background. Being part of TAAP, however, solidified it.
The TAAP program consists of people who value community, including staff members like Joani and donors like Carol Clark, who sponsored Salvador’s TAAP scholarship. The two formed a strong relationship during his time at Cal and have remained in touch. Carol even flew across the country to attend his graduation when he earned his master’s degree in education at Loyola Marymount University.
With these individuals forming the culture of TAAP, the program becomes a resource for resilient, community-minded leaders who are determined to make a difference in the lives of others. “[The scholars] all understand how the world is bigger than us because we all experienced adversity that helped us become the individuals we are,” Salvador says. “At Berkeley, the experience of being around so many people who have similar visions has shaped me into the individual I am currently.”
Cal and its community encourages people to “be their best and make change,” regardless of what they do. As for Salvador—like many TAAP community members—he hopes to carry these values, and his Cal pride, with him for life.