Yale Grad Emerges From Poverty, Forgoes Silicon Valley Salary To Help Others

KPIX 5 Students Rising Above

by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce

(KPIX 5) — Her office is in the heart of Silicon Valley. She graduated Yale, Class of 2016. But far from making a six-figure salary, a woman who emerged from poverty in East Palo Alto has chosen to return to her roots and mentor others who have similar aspirations.

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Alicia Ponce Diaz works at Able Works, a small nonprofit in East Palo Alto which offers education and life skills to low-income individuals and seeks to guide them into the Silicon Valley job pipeline.

She graduated from the Students Rising Above Class of 2012. “I’ve always wanted to come back and live in East Palo Alto and work with East Palo Alto kids and now that I can do that, it’s amazing to me because I can be with my people and uplift my people,” she said.

Alicia is a shining example of giving back. “My passion is giving and my passion is human advocacy,” she shared.

This passion was instilled by her parents since childhood. “My family’s always come from poverty cycles,” said Alicia. “My parents moved here with little to nothing. We’ve always been taught to live with what we have and be grateful for what we have.”

Alicia has also come full circle with Students Rising Above since returning to her hometown. She is now an adviser to new SRA scholars, from preparing college applications to guiding them through difficult times.

She said her reason for taking on those tasks is “not because I don’t think others will do it, but because I don’t think other people can fully understand the experience without living in it and without growing up in it.”

Alicia’s commitment to SRA is because of one person: her own adviser who planted the seed of how to pay it forward.

“[My adviser] always taught us that we are not defined by our stories,” Alicia shared, “and our stories are a part of us yes, but they don’t reflect what we’re going to become.”

Now as Alicia guides other young students on their journeys to “rise above” she can see through their eyes the challenging path they face, and can also overcome.

“This is one step further in changing lives in those that come after me and my family.”

More from Sherry Hu
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