May 25, 2001
Nancy Flores and Angelica Ontiveros, two outstanding Jordan High School International Baccalaureate alumnae, will graduate on June 2 from West Point. As members of one of the most underrepresented groups in higher education, these high achieving Latinas emailed answers telling how they beat the odds. Both are the first members of their families to go to college. Flores is the youngest of 10 children.
Q. What motivated you to go to West Point?
Ontiveros: I wanted to make a difference in my life and change the stereotypical perceptions people have of Latinos. West Point was my chance to challenge myself, become a stronger woman, and at the same time show others that someone like myself could do it. West Point was my way to see what opportunities are out there that many neglect to see. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Flores: When I was a junior at Jordan High, a recruiter from West Point talked to my AP Biology class. I felt that serving my country while also receiving a great education was my destiny.
Q. What advice would you give other young women who may have doubts about their potential?
Ontiveros: Someone told me that I couldn't accomplish much because I was female and because I was a Latina (I learned to speak Spanish and English at the same time, and both of my parents were born in Mexico. They are American citizens now), but that just made me angry. It made me want to be successful even more. I would tell young women to follow their dreams and stay focused. We'll always have obstacles to overcome, but if you want something, it can be done. There will be plenty of people there to help as long as you're proactive and seek the help.
Flores: At first, I felt that West Point was going to be very physically demanding and that as a female, I would have to work harder to prove myself. For young women desiring to attend West Point, I would say that they should have total confidence in themselves. Everyone should believe in his or her abilities to succeed.
Q. What helped you the most to prepare to succeed at West Point?
Ontiveros: The thing that helped me the most is being proactive. I was involved in sports and a lot of clubs as well as in student council. If you want to succeed, you have to be proactive because success is not going to fall on your lap as some naïve students may like to think. Taking IB/AP classes from teachers who were highly motivated and loved teaching helped tremendously. I would recommend that high school students take tough courses that challenge them. Just because you take these classes does not make you a nerd or socially inept. On the contrary, I recommend that students take courses like calculus, physics, AP English, and go to summer school every year to help them do well on their SATs.
I attended Hamilton in grade eight (after transferring from Texas) prior to four years at Jordan. I enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program, was junior and senior class president, played soccer, volleyball, and softball, served as Stylus co-editor, Key Club, CSF president, NHS, Peace 90805, and volunteered at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. The IB program ingrained a tough work ethic that helped me prepare for the rigorous academic curriculum I would face at West Point.
Flores: Taking college level courses helped me the most to prepare for West Point. The teachers cared about us and ensured that we were prepared for college. I would recommend that high school students become involved in a program similar to IB (and) take various courses in math, English, and the sciences. I would also recommend that any high school student interested in West Point become involved in sports. West Point demands physically fit students. Sports not only keep you in shape but also teach you about teamwork, an integral part of West Point.
Q. What has been the toughest part?
Ontiveros: The toughest part of my journey was not having resources easily available during high school. My family did not own a computer, and everyone worked. I had to ask my friends to borrow their computers and for rides to the library. Sometimes this meant working late hours and spending less time at home. I could not seek help within my family for academic assistance or for help during the college application process...West Point teaches you that you can do more than you thought you could.
Flores: My toughest part has been managing my time between military duties, academics, and physical activities.
Q. What are your life goals?
Ontiveros: After attending West Point and being exposed to different aspects of the military and the political sector (from the very nature that our school requires congressional nominations), I would like to continue my education and attend graduate school with an emphasis in public policy and go from there. Who knows? Maybe I'll run for Congress. I do plan on doing some type of social work to give back to my community.
Flores: My goals are to become a successful army officer...to always have a future...to live a life which I can be proud of.
Q. What teacher did the most to help you see your possibilities?
Ontiveros: Giving credit to just one teacher would be an injustice to all those who have helped me along.
Ironically, I would have to say that my English teacher, Ms. Maruna, pushed me enough to see that I had the potential to make a difference in my life. She always pushed her students to take responsibility for their education. Although she did not have a reputation for being one of the favorites, she really cared for our education and made me care. I think my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Tollstrup, and math teachers, Mr. Hagey and Ms. O'Halloren showed us a good work ethic. My physics teacher, Mr. Vanderpool, told me to go to West Point because opportunities like attending the Point are few and far between. My soccer coaches Tee Ung and Ms. Dominetta encouraged us to do our best all the time. Our high school principal, Dr. Shickler, always walked around campus and did not sit behind his desk. He talked to the students and listened. I think that was very important and showed me that people cared about our welfare. My counselor, Ms. Hansford, always went out of her way to help in any way she could.
Flores: I had a lot of teachers who helped me to see the possibilities of West Point and beyond. Everyone involved in the IB program helped me with my success.
Q. Who most influenced your view of what you could do?
Ontiveros: High school made me care for my future and showed me that I shouldn't settle for the minimum standards of living. Having to watch (my parents') pain and suffering to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads motivated me the most to want more for my family. I wanted to make them proud and to show them that all their efforts weren't for nothing. I think my graduation is their accomplishment as well because they didn't have the opportunities that I was afforded.
Flores: In high school, I was always determined to succeed. I knew that I wanted to go to college in order to challenge myself. The people who influenced me the most were faculty at Jordan High and my family.
Q. Tell us about the major obstacles you had to overcome?
Ontiveros: My parents were anti-military and did not want me to go to West Point. I had to apply to West Point secretly. I had to ask my friends' parents for rides to my congresswoman's office to receive a nomination and had to have my school counselor give me a ride for entry exams. It made me sad that I could not share the experience with my family and that my school could not mention my acceptance at graduation because my family did not believe me when I told them I had been accepted and that I was going to go across the country to be someone.
I am one of the few in my family who has not "messed up" (dropped out of school, drugs, or pregnancy). This puts a lot of weight on my shoulders to bring success to the family name.
Flores: Growing up in a Hispanic family, a female's future is not higher education, but helping out the family by working. I had to overcome this obstacle...by going to West Point, but they all respect me for my accomplishments.