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Raymond Partolan is a senior at Mercer University. Mercer has impacted his life in countless ways. RAYMOND PARTOLAN
Raymond Partolan is a senior at Mercer University. Mercer has impacted his life in countless ways. RAYMOND PARTOLAN

I grew up in Macon. I went to Central High School.

Start at Margaritas in Mercer Village and walk due West, across the bridge that everyone tells you not to cross. Turn right on Holt Avenue and, about five minutes later, you’ll happen upon the school where I spent four of the most formative years of my life.

My point here is that Macon has always been my home and this little part of town is where I grew into the person I am today.

Just like so many other high school students, I wanted to escape my hometown for college. I was ready for a breath of fresh air, something new, something that would challenge me and stretch my horizons. I was looking for a place far away from home where I could create a new life for myself.

Life for me growing up was tough. I’m an undocumented student. That means the prospect of college for me was bleak. When you’re not eligible for most financial aid, you can’t work legally or drive legally, and, every moment, you live in fear of being discovered, arrested and deported back to a country very much unfamiliar to you, you want to move as far away as possible from the place with which you associate so many bad memories. For me, that place was Macon.

My senior year of high school, I applied to 14 different colleges and universities. My dream school was Yale University. I thought I had the grades, scores and extracurricular involvement to get in.

Boy, was I wrong. The day I was rejected was one of the hardest moments of my life. Shortly thereafter, however, I received a piece of mail from Mercer saying that I had been awarded the Presidential Scholarship, a full-tuition award that would allow me to finally realize my dreams of attending college.

There was one catch, though. Mercer was in Macon, the very place I was trying so hard to leave. I applied to Mercer as my safety schoo, the school I was sure I could easily get into. Mercer was the last place I wanted to be.

I sucked it up and grudgingly told myself, “A college education is a college education, and there are so many people out there who would do much for this opportunity.” I accepted Mercer’s offer and started my freshman year in the fall of 2011.

Three years later, I’m starting my senior year of college. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had no reason to doubt Mercer.

To be completely honest, what brought me here was the very generous scholarship package that Mercer offered me. Mercer saw the potential in me as a learner and a leader, and it gave me the opportunity to attend college—an opportunity that is denied to millions of undocumented students across the country with similar stories.

Today, however, I’ve discovered so much more to value about Mercer than its generosity in awarding scholarship money.

At Mercer, I’ve made best friends, formed valuable and enjoyable relationships with professors and administrators, and refined and honed the skills I need to be an active contributor to the world around me.

Mercer’s given me so much, and I’ve pledged to do what I can to give back. Last year, while I served as the president of SGA, the thing that kept me going was knowing what Mercer had done for me and thinking about what I could do for it.

Professors don’t just teach you the material. They show you ways to apply it. At this point in my life, as I gear up for the real world, potentially going to law school, and getting on with the rest of my life, I have to take the opportunity to thank everyone I’ve encountered at Mercer. In some kind of way, you’ve all influenced me and compelled me to be the individual who I am today.

Today, I’m an activist for immigration reform. I speak out for millions of undocumented students who deserve to be heard. Our system is unjust and I see it as my calling to do my part to help fix it. Mercer gave me the tools to be a leader and an active participant in the affairs around me.

Mercer has grown to mean so much to me. Despite the fact that it was the last place I wanted to be, now it’s the only place I want to be ,and the only place I want others to go. My love for this place runs through the entirety of my existence.

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