The Luxury to Dream Big

20th Anniversary - Access Youth Academy Alumnus and Colombia University Junior Renya Pacheco
By Reyna Pachecho

A graduate of Access Youth Academy in San Diego, Pachecho gave the keynote address below at the NUSEA gala dinner. She is a junior at Columbia, playing at the top of the Lions’ squash ladder and is ranked No. 157 in the world.

Wanting more than the basic necessities is a luxury I did not grow up with. My mother, who is the bravest woman I know, has always kept it together for us, and has always found a way to show us what persistence and love look like. She always finds a way to make us appreciate the little we have. Just recently, she was telling us how her boss at Wendy’s is paying her $9.05 and everyone else is getting $9. She was proud to tell us how her work was valued. She is grateful for everything and takes absolutely nothing for granted.

Every day of my life, I have seen my parents work hard and live in the same house in the same neighborhood and wear the same clothes. At home we have no luxuries. We have always had very little and with very little we have always made a lot. There were never any extras. There weren’t many Christmas presents. There weren’t many new clothes. We have always had just enough for food, and a roof above our heads.

While it is true that my experience with Access was life-changing, it was not always easy. The journey was a struggle and there were many times that I was ready to yell at Renato Paiva, the executive director. What in the world was he thinking when he kept being so grandiose and outrageous about his plans, his big picture ideas like college? Half of the time, I cried myself to sleep thinking things would not work out. I saw them as impossibilities. Plans required resources. They required time. They required a position of comfort. I was scared to have a big vision for myself like the one that my program thought I should have.

With time, I learned to focus on the small things. Renato was big on detail. He took away my fear by teaching me that outcomes did not matter as much as the person I was becoming through the process. While big picture ideas like college seemed outrageous to think about, they intrigued me and made me want to be the best version of Reyna that I could be. I became a sponge, taking in what I saw to be the best qualities in people.

It wasn’t really about goals that I secretly wanted to achieve. It was more about proving to my parents that things did not have to be the way they were. The daughter my mom knew quickly required more, and there is nothing more painful for parents than to see their kid want more and you cannot give it to them. You cannot magically make them green card holders or pay their college tuition or give them a ride to practice when you need the car for work.

I learned that my family had already provided me with the most essential necessity and biggest gift anyone could give: my family showed me what persistence, courage and love look like. I am proud of the home I come from—my family created my core.

Today, I love my insatiable and sometimes crazy ambitions. Today I live in a city that my parents have yet to see, and I live a life they cannot imagine. Today I am close to getting a college degree, one my older brother so clearly deserved to have the opportunity to obtain. I have seen places in the world that generations of my family never got to see. I continue to have a luxury that is so rare in the world I come from, the luxury to want more and more, the luxury to think big, and the luxury to plan.

I am just one example that urban squash is doing invaluable work, work that cannot be measured. Opportunity is scarce; I am very lucky to have had people invest their time in me. I have yet to achieve anything with this investment—at least not the grandiose ideas that I’ve learned to have, the kind that do not let me sleep at night.