Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
It was my dream to go to college, ever since I was little. I used to pretend I was in college with my dolls, and at the age of 11, I’d say I wanted to go to college and be successful like my sister, Hecgrise Mateo.
The author awaiting the start of class at New York’s Hostos Community College.
After graduating high school, though, I ended up in a day program. I was there because the care manager I had in the past thought the day program was a good fit for me, and at the time it was the only program I had information about. I tried to explain that I wanted to go to college, but she told me I wasn’t eligible for college. I stayed in the day program for a while, but didn’t learn anything and it wasn’t for me.
Then, in 2016, my mom died and my sister and I were heartbroken. I was at summer camp when it happened and I got a call from Hecgrise saying mom passed away. I had been living with my mom and Hecgrise took me in to live with her and her husband. I told her I didn’t want to go to a day program anymore. I wanted to go to college. I wanted a better life, a college experience, and opportunities.
While at the day program, my new care manager came to me with an application for the Melissa Riggio Higher Education program, and it changed everything for me. Today, I’m 30 years old and a junior at Hostos Community College. I have classes two days a week in education and history and I still live with my sister. I think being an older student has helped me because I’m more mature and independent. I changed. I’m more understanding, and I’m learning to depend on myself. I have this professor this semester who inspires me to pursue my dreams as a teacher and self- advocate. I just want to keep learning how to be better as myself. To be a better Majolyn.
In my second year, I became a policy advocate for Think College. I’ve been interviewed by Liz Weintraub and featured in the Think College newsletter. I’ve spoken to students at Syracuse University about social justice. This has been very important to me because I was born with autism and it has always been difficult to communicate. I learned to sign words for my mom and sister when I was about 3 years old, and when I got to school a lot of kids picked on me and teased me. They would say I’m slow, or would make fun of my braces. I was really shy and didn’t say a lot. As I grew up, I had a few friends who helped me stand up for myself, though. I used to say to my teachers and my family that when I get older, I’m going to stand up for myself and not stay quiet. That’s what social justice means to me – to be yourself and to speak out for others.
My plan for the future is to work for parents, to advocate and tell my story to parents so they can see what is possible for their children’s future. I may work in an organization to do this, or maybe I’ll work for the mayor’s office. Eric Adams, maybe I’ll work for him, per se, and we’ll talk about disability rights and we can go to colleges and high schools in New York City and speak about advocacy together.
Eventually, I want to work in special education and to advocate for people with disabilities around the world. I want to go to the Dominican Republic and speak there. My family is from there. Mom was born there, actually, and I’ve been there. It’s beautiful, but there are a lot of poor people and corruption, and a lot of children with disabilities are just at home doing nothing. I want to give them a change, show them they can go to post-secondary programs, and that they can go to college.
My uncle would always sit with me when I talked about this and he’d say people with disabilities like you have a beautiful mindset. I think he meant that I have common sense and that even though we go through a lot, we are special.
I want to get married and maybe even start a church someday and make it one that everyone can go to, and maybe I’ll become a minister there.
If I could give advice to anyone thinking about going to college, I’d say, be yourself. Be confident and don’t be scared or ashamed. If you need support from your mentors, they will help you all the way.
I’m not afraid to be myself. This is how college changed my life. My dreams are bigger now.