A Harvard freshman’s tweet about being the only low-income, first generation, underprivileged student from Chicago in his graduating class has gone viral — the same week reports revealed that 43 percent of white students admitted to the institution were either legacies, recruited athletes, children of faculty or staff, or relatives of donors.
“I’m the only kid at Harvard right now, class of 2023, that’s from Chicago and didn’t go to a selective enrollment school, a private school, a predominately affluent suburban school,” Amado Candelario wrote in a tweet that received more than 86,000 likes as of Friday afternoon. “I’m the only Chicago neighborhood school kid. It’s sad but I DID THAT and I’m proud of myself!!”
Candelario, who grew up with his immigrant mother from Mexico and two sisters in West Lawn, Chicago, had been dreaming of attending Harvard — which accepted 4.5 percent of applicants in 2019 — since he was in sixth grade.
“The only thing people ever talked about when you mentioned was how good it was and how it was the best post-secondary education you could get,” Candelario told NBC News. “I grew up in a lot of poverty and violence and I wanted something better for myself.”
Candelario said he started thinking about college early because he knew that he needed to figure out a way to pay for the hefty price tag of a college education. The total 2018-2019 cost of attending Harvard University without financial aid is $67,580 for tuition, room, board and fees combined, according to the school.
“I needed to figure out how to provide for myself and how I could give back to my mom and to my family that has done so much for me, and college seemed like the way to do that,” he said.
As a high school student at Eric Solario Academy High School, located in the Southwest Side of Chicago, Candelario took advantage of several college preparatory programs. This included the Chicago Scholars, a mentorship program, and Questbridge College Prep Scholars Program, which guides low-income students through the admissions process.
“I feel like for kids who come from marginalized backgrounds, being realistic can limit them," Candelario said. "I feel like you have to dream big and tell your intentions to the world. All of high school, even as a freshman, I told people I wanted to go to Harvard. I put it in my Instagram bio, even though I wasn’t accepted. There’s something powerful about manifesting and verbalizing what you want and telling yourself you are capable of that.”
This tweet isn’t the first time Candelario has gone viral for sharing his story about his journey to one of the world's most elite universities. Last fall, he posted a “reaction video” to his YouTube channel, chronicling his exact response when he found out he was accepted into Harvard. Spoiler: there were tears of joy and disbelief and a lot of hugging.
Candelario’s story is especially poignant as the fallout of the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal continues to unfold. Earlier this week, Devin Slone — who is among the dozens of parents accused of paying their children’s way into an elite university — was sentenced to four months in federal prison, a $95,000 fine and 500 hours of community service. The college admissions scandal has made many Latinx college students rethink their impostor syndrome, NBC News previously reported.
Candelario is candid about the fact that it's an adjustment to navigate life at Harvard.
“There have been times when I’ve been on campus and I’ve interacted with very intellectual people and I question whether I belong here,” Candelario said. “The process of feeling like you belong to an institution is something I have a weird relationship with because I know on a certain level, institutions like this weren’t created for people that look like me in mind, but I think these spaces can be made for us.”
Candelario hasn’t declared an official concentration yet, but he’s interested in studying political science and economics and possibly becoming a lawyer to help people from marginalized backgrounds. He hopes that in sharing his story, he inspires others who face similar obstacles to pursuing their dreams — just as his family has inspired him.
“My sister is currently pursuing a college degree at UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago] and my mom is one of the most powerful women I’ve ever known,” he said. “I’m sure many people think about their mom that way, but for me, what really motivated me and made me want something better in life was seeing them struggle and make sacrifices for me.”