My name is Liliete Lopez. The first time I ever set foot in a classroom I was 15. I just graduated from Queens College with a double major in Political Science and Urban Studies. I’m about to begin a master’s program in Urban Affairs at Queens College. I’m from Nicaragua, where people with disabilities have no rights. I came to the United States when I was 14. I had never attended school before that.

So when I came to the United States, I not only had to learn English; I also had to learn to read and write. I went right into high school and it was awful. I felt like a captured animal. The other children didn’t understand me. I attended a high school for the blind and visually impaired, and of course, I thought it would be a friendly place — but it wasn’t. I was bullied by teachers and students who told me I was never going to make it. But I believe in angels. I found people that motivated and encouraged me, especially Paul Geraci, a counselor from the New York State Commission for the Blind, who told me: “You will go far; you are college material.”

I credit my parents with a lot of my success, because they never treated me like a person with a disability. Neither did my brother or my sister. They taught me to make decision on my own: that just because I had a disability didn’t mean that I was unable to think. I want to work in public policy with people with disabilities: veterans, and low-income people. I feel that I could make a difference in their lives.

Liliete received her master’s degree in May and plans to teach students with disabilities.