January 22, 2024 at 7:34 p.m. EST
The last time change arrived on his doorstep, Alejandro was 14. His dad had gotten a job as a preacher in the United States. Only Alejandro and his parents would go; his brothers were too old to follow. Life at 14 meant going where you had to, not somewhere you got to choose.
There is one moment still stuck in his mind. In his old house in San Salvador, his dad stood near their front door. One brother stood to his left, arms crossed over his chest. His other brother stood to the right, one arm draped over their father’s shoulders. Alejandro was a few feet away, trying to bottle how he felt in that moment.
The years between then and now gave him more height, a crash course in English, and a new idea about change. He couldn’t stop it, so he might as well embrace it. A book called “Un Año de Cambios,” “a year of changes,” rested on his bedside table, cover worn from all the times he had opened it before school. Near his desk was a bass guitar. His brother was teaching him how to play over Zoom.
College seemed both inevitable and impossible. His parents expected it of him; he expected it of himself. But he would be the first in his immediate family to go. Everyone said classes were much harder than high school. He would never forget the one time junior year he got a B; his dad had looked at him and said, “What is that?”
When it came time to apply to college, he knew what he wanted his essay to say.
“College is a new experience for me. There are challenges, obstacles, and walls that I will have to face,” Alejandro wrote. “While others struggle to find a way out, I know that I have a foundation.”
On Sunday, Alejandro found himself praying in church for an acceptance letter from the University of Maryland. He could study film there, play drums there. Going to college there was something he could choose.
Plus, the university was close enough to home that he could still attend his dad’s church. He had already been accepted to a few other schools, but the proximity to College Park made U-Md. his first choice. It would bring change, “but not too much,” he said.
Hours later, he was watching a TV show with his parents when the doorbell rang. Outside were members of U-Md. ‘s marching band. A person in a giant turtle costume stood next to a man who said, “Congratulations Alejandro! You’ve been admitted to the University of Maryland, College Park.”
Alejandro’s parents had been in on the secret. Days before, an admissions official called them to say that their son had been admitted. The official had asked them to keep the news quiet; the school wanted the big reveal to be public, with a marching band and a videographer to record the scene.
Maryland had started the tradition in 2015, choosing two to four students in Maryland each year. The applicants had submitted applications by Nov. 1, the deadline for Early Action candidates.
Alejandro’s house was the band’s third stop of the day.
Trumpets blared. Cymbals crashed. His mom, a few feet behind him, pulled out her phone to record.
“Thank you thank you,” Alejandro said, beaming and holding the red admissions envelope to his chest. “I appreciate it.”
He hugged the terrapin, U-Md. ‘s mascot.
Then, Alejandro took drum sticks from a woman dressed in a U-Md. shirt and cap, and began to play.