A Red Bank Regional High School graduate registered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) hopes to inspire current Red Bank Regional High School students and immigrants with her own experiences.
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Monica Urena spoke before Red Bank High students and faculty at an assembly on Oct. 4.
Born in Costa Rica, Urena moved to the United States at the age of 10. She is currently a student at Rutgers University and previously earned an associate’s degree from Brookdale Community College.
During her time at the high school, Urena described herself as being stressed, in part due to her parents immigrating from another country.
“When your parents are immigrants, you are the American Dream,” she said. “Being the reason for their sacrifice is a lot of pressure. I felt compelled to do everything.”
While taking AP classes, playing tennis and spending her hours as a volunteer, Urena had the dream of attending a four-year school. By her senior year, she began to struggle with knowing what she wanted to do in the future, until Cassandra Dorn, her English teacher, told her it was alright if she didn’t know.
However, during the college application process, Urena came to the realization that she could not afford to attend a four-year school. She noted that as an undocumented immigrant, she was not eligible for financial aid and did not have many scholarship offers.
“It felt like I had done all this hard work for nothing,” Urena said. “I felt like I had let my parents down.”
She ultimately enrolled at Brookdale, which she attended while working full-time at the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank. Although she failed a class, Urena said she managed to persevere and continued to balance her work and school schedule. By her second year, she helped form a club for fellow Brookdale students registered with DACA and became the club’s president.
Urena now regards not attending a four-year school to be the best thing that happened to her because during her time as a Brookdale student, she was able to receive an internship to FGI Finance in New York City. She explained that while working at the Molly Pitcher, she met Joseph Albertelli, FGI’s chief operating officer, who found that she was able to work well under pressure.
Looking to change her situation, Urena commented that she is no longer angry about being an undocumented immigrant and all of the adversity she faced motivated her.
Now studying supply chain management at Rutgers, she acknowledged that she and her fellow immigrants protected by DACA are facing an uncertain future due to it being rescinded by the Trump administration, but nevertheless intends to look for work after she earns her degree.
“You don’t always get what you want in life, but you get what you need,” Urena said. “If you open your mind to all the possibilities, you will be amazed with what can become.”