A young, Latinx mom wanted to change the way we think about mental health. Grad school made it possible.
When Adriana Alejandre became pregnant at 19, she understood her life would drastically change. A sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, Alejandre wanted nothing more than to complete her education, but she knew it would be difficult (if not impossible) as a young single mom.
"It was hard because I thought that was the end," says Gladis Caal, Alejandre's mother. "I thought she would not be able to study again, because that is what happened to me." While her mom was concerned about Alejandre's future, others were much less kind. "I was actually told by others that I would become another Latina dropout statistic," Alejandre remembers.
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Those harsh words were meant to dismiss Alejandre and put her down, but they had the opposite effect, fueling her to continue pursuing her education. She needed to show the world that she didn't have to make a choice between being a mom or a student — she could do both.
Alejandre was taking a psychology course at the time she learned she was pregnant. It inspired her to see a therapist to talk about all of the changes she was experiencing. As a Latinx woman, going to therapy broke cultural norms. "Mental health isn't really talked about in my culture. We're expected to just get better on our own automatically," she says. But it also made it clear to her that those norms needed to change. Those changes, Alejandre decided, would begin with her. She'd finish up her degree, go on to graduate school, and then work to transform the conversation around mental health in the Latinx community, all while being the best mom in the world.
The decision to attend graduate school was an important one. Alejandre was certain she wanted to go on to complete a master's degree and she knew that the benefits — greater earning power, more employment opportunities, and increased confidence, to name a few — would help her gain the expertise and create the professional network she needed to succeed in her chosen career .
Like Alejandre, many know that applying to graduate school is a commitment. It involves asking questions about one's career path, researching schools, and creating a strong application packet that sets you apart from others. It also often requires taking the GRE General Test, an admissions test that allows applicants to show schools they possess the critical thinking skills needed for today's demanding graduate-level programs.
For Alejandre, preparing to take the GRE General Test meant studying wherever and whenever she could find time. "I got the prep book. I was studying every single day so that I could go into it prepared," she says.
All that preparation paid off. Alejandre gained entry into the prestigious Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University, graduated, earned her Marriage and Family Therapist license, and opened up a private practice. Within a year, she'd also launched Latinx Therapy, a popular podcast that breaks stigmas, busts myths, and answers questions about mental health specifically as it relates to the Latinx community. She's also built a strong community of other Latinx therapists with whom she can share wisdom and strength.
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Alejandre can't help but think how much her life has changed since she was an undergraduate. "Looking back to that 19-year-old girl, I've come really, really far...it's been a beautiful journey even though it's been so hard, but it's been worth it."
To hear more about Alejandre's story, check out this video.
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