Maria Herrera Featured Image

Carrying The Family Forward: Realizing My Full Potential

A speech by Maria Herrera delivered to a crowd of 220 people at Enterprise for Youth’s annual dinner celebration, Heroes at Work on May 1st, 2024. One of three speakers, Maria shared her personal journey and how Enterprise has impacted her life. 

Maria Herrera
Maria Herrera, Enterprise alumni and youth speaker at
Heroes at Work – May 1st, 2024

“My education is a continuation of my parents’ unfulfilled desires and I’m grateful to be able to teach them things they never learned.”

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2024 Enterprise for Youth Heroes at Work event. My name is Maria Herrera, and I’m honored to be one of your speakers tonight. I still remember the shock and awe I felt when I received the email inviting me to participate. This community means so much to me, and having the opportunity to share my experiences on this stage is incredibly meaningful.

I have been with Enterprise since I was a 17-year-old junior at Lowell High School, and now I am a 21-year-old rising senior at UC Berkeley. I grew up in the Bayview district of San Francisco, where I lived until I moved away for college. My father is from Guatemala, and my mother is from Mexico. As many of you with immigrant parents may know, high expectations often accompany their dreams for us. 

In their home countries, educational opportunities were limited—a luxury few could afford. To them, the American dream emphasizes hard work, and their efforts have been focused on ensuring I could have an easier path through education.

Education has always been a significant part of my life. While it might sound overwhelming to some, my parents encouraged me to pursue what makes me happy. As nerdy as it sounds, I have always loved school. My education is a continuation of my parents’ unfulfilled desires, and I’m grateful to be able to teach them things they never learned.

Growing up, my biggest challenge was not having anyone to ask for help with academics. This isolation made many things difficult for me. I developed a fear of asking for help because I wasn’t used to it, often having to figure things out on my own.

Maria Herrera speaking on stage at Heroes at Work
Maria Herrera speaking on stage at Heroes at Work 2024 at Terra Gallery in San Francisco, CA

“Thankfully, I met Enterprise, which introduced me to another crucial aspect of higher education: internships.”

Additionally, I struggled with the language barrier. Spanish is my home language, and I only began learning English when I started school, which complicated my academic work.

Over time, new challenges emerged. My parents and I knew nothing about applying to college, public and private schools, or what the FAFSA application was. 

Thankfully, I met Enterprise, which introduced me to another crucial aspect of higher education: internships. I’ve been with Enterprise for nearly four years now. Time has flown by, and they’ve supported me every step of the way. I began with job readiness training with Carlo, who made me feel welcome right from our first online meeting. Since then, I’ve had wonderful internship opportunities.

My first summer, I worked alongside other youth to clean Crocker Park. The following summer, I worked at a law firm called KIND, which assists unaccompanied youth at the border. There, I did a lot of administrative work and familiarized myself with government documents. I’d like to give a shout-out to Ana Moraga, a board member of Enterprise, who made this internship possible.

This past summer, I worked as a program assistant, which allowed me to understand Enterprise from a whole new perspective, and they got to know me better too.

I’m proud to announce that as of last November, I was asked to join the Board of this special organization.

But the most impactful opportunity was during the summer of 2022 when I interned at UCSF’s Multitudes program. I used my bilingual skills to proctor tests for Spanish-speaking youth to study possible connections with dyslexia. Meeting these kids, who proudly spoke of their hard-working parents and their own educational aspirations, reminded me of my own challenges and fueled my passion for education.

My goal is to graduate from UC Berkeley with bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and, as of a week ago, Chicano Studies. I then plan to pursue a master’s in social work to become a school social worker. I want to support students academically, mentally, and emotionally, just as my parents’ support and hard work have guided me.

I’m here today to represent the sacrifices of my parents so that their daughter could attend college and pursue a career helping kids like me. And while I have you here, I want to thank my mother for everything and for allowing me to live life to the fullest. Thank you, Enterprise, for having me here today to represent this amazing program.

I hope my story inspires everyone here tonight to keep striving. Enterprise has taught me the importance of community, even in professional settings, because at the end of the day, we all need one another.