Growing up in Los Angeles was not an easy thing to do. There were the typical adolescent worries such as passing vexing history tests, mustering up the courage to ask your crush to the school dance and trying to get the highest score on the arcade game at the local convenience store.

But being raised in the heart of Los Angeles you also had to contend with not taking the wrong menacing bus home so you didn’t get beat up by a vicious gang, making sure you had enough friends to have your back at a party so you didn’t get shanked by a rival group of hoodies and hoping the cops didn’t mistake you for that other group of tough guys you had nothing to do with.

I guess that’s what made my time at UCLA so special. To this day it represents a personal victory not only for me, but a huge accomplishment for my Central-American immigrant parents, my entire supportive family and all the chums from the neighborhood who never got the opportunity to attend college.

When I was 12 years old, I had a really tough time in algebra. Test after test, it was a branch of mathematics that my young brain could not grasp. One summer I took the RTD (Metro bus line) with my mom all the way down Sunset Boulevard – from the corner of Sunset and La Brea to the UCLA campus – for tutoring. The stark difference in landscape was evident in one 30-minute bus ride from Hollywood to Westwood.

My academic confidence was at an-all time low, but a UCLA tutor named Tiley Chao would change all that. I was able to pass algebra with flying colors.

The memorable moments of walking up and down the gorgeous lawn of neatly trimmed hedge after hedge was inspiring for me, especially because I was more accustomed to an urban vista of homeless people, smudged prostitutes and incurable drug addicts. I would walk over to the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the corner of Le Conte and Gayley (long demolished) and to the Mann Bruin Theatre to catch matinees of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was that summer I made the distinct pledge to my 12-year-old self that I would attend UCLA one day.

After graduating from high school, I applied to UCLA, but was denied. The rejection was quick, but not painless. After being accepted to three state schools, it was still my goal to attend the college of my dreams. Counselors told me I had a better chance of transferring to a UC from a community college than a state college, so I attended Santa Monica Community College.

SMC proved to be more than just a scholastic playground, as it was a boot camp to improve my grades. Two strenuous years passed, and I was able to plow through all my requirements and re-apply to UCLA as a junior. To compound the difficulty of the situation, I applied to the undergraduate film school, which only accepted 30 (out of over 30,000) applicants every fall semester.

The first wave of letters came in from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara, and I got accepted to all of them. But no word yet from UCLA.

Weeks after all my other acceptance letters came in, I received an envelope from UCLA. I opened up the package and immediately wept on my mother’s shoulder when I read the word “Congratulations.”

I was one of 30 undergraduates accepted into the undergraduate film department at UCLA. To this day, it stands as one of the most paramount moments of my life.