“It was a rough start.”
That’s how Leidy Guarin, a UNT sophomore, development and family studies major, sums up her early life. Guarin and her parents moved from their homeland of Colombia to the United States when she was 6 years old, settling in Bedford, Texas. Shortly after, her parents divorced. Guarin was forced to become self-sufficient beyond her years, largely fending for herself after school while her mother worked long hours as a housekeeper.
In high school, Guarin found support in her school’s TRiO program, which uses federal funds to help low-income or first-generation college students pursue higher education. One of her school’s TRiO activities was to tour area college campuses — that’s when she first laid eyes on UNT. It was love at first sight.
“I took different tours of universities, and as soon as I got to UNT, I thought, ‘This is home!” Guarin said.
The only problem: Her family couldn’t afford a four-year college education.
Instead, Guarin made plans to attend a community college. Just as she was about to sign up for classes, she found out she had been placed on the waiting list for the Emerald Eagle Scholars program at UNT.
“I wrote a letter to the program head and told her how much I needed the scholarship to be able to attend UNT and that I wanted to be there and that I would give it my all,” Guarin said. “A week before school started, I got my acceptance letter.”
Now, the academically gifted Guarin is working hard to make good on her promise. She is involved with the Student Government Association, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Freshman Honor Society and the Multicultural Center’s Buddy System, among other campus organizations. Her long-term goal is to go into counseling or teaching, possibly in her native Colombia.
“The kids are so eager to learn,” she said. “In Colombia, school is not free, so if they get a chance to go, they have to take it. It made me realize how honored and grateful I am to have the opportunity to learn.
“It’s that kind of experience I want to have for the rest of my life.”