It Takes An Island: Pacific Islander Strives to Reach Higher

By: Thomas Mangloña
Thomas and his guardians, Mona and John Mangloña.

Applying to college was everything I looked forward to, but also feared. I did not think my story mattered, and with the lack of resources in my community on the Northern Mariana Islands; I did not feel fully equipped to submit a successful college application. Regardless of these anxieties, I made it a point to work hard throughout school, and I told myself that, “you get what you put in.

In middle school, I began to use my writing to combat this culture of complacency on Rota, a place where no newspaper is printed and no reporter resides. In between homework and chores, I maintained a blog where I featured stories about community events and the environment. I distributed homemade business cards at school to my friends and their parents to view my blog. I continued my passion for writing when I moved to the neighboring island of Saipan for high school, where I enrolled in my first journalism class. I recall giving one of my homemade business cards to a guest speaker — who happened to be a publisher and encouraged me to write for her newspaper. I accepted her offer and wrote stories following the same beat as my blog. From there, I was hired by local print publications and a television station in Guam to report about Saipan events. I used the money that I earned from my stories to pay for my high school tuition at a Mt. Carmel School on Saipan, which was the island’s sole Catholic educational institution. Even though I was on academic scholarship and financial aid, I still had to work to cover the costs of my other expenses, such as my uniforms and school supplies.

While at Mt. Carmel School, I immediately became involved in student government, speech and debate, and community organizing on Saipan Island. I even helped coordinate the first ever College Signing Day! I was also a proud member of the AmeriCorps program, where I was able to tutor middle school students.

Thomas at his school’s first College Signing Day event.

When junior year came around, I knew it was time for me to reflect on the past couple of years of my life and put my story on paper to submit as my personal statement to the colleges I wanted to attend. It was at this point that I realized the hardships I had experienced by living in a single parent household, and working as a student at a restaurant in junior high, and being a cub reporter for the news stations at my high school, were not at all disadvantages. Instead, they were similar to “weights” that prepared me to take on larger things in life beyond the island shores.

“Through this process, I felt like my story mattered. In turn, I hope that those after me will have their voices heard and hopefully have access to a good education, as I do.”

During the college application process, I reached out to my mentors at school and older cousins in my family who went to college for advice. I spent many days writing drafts for the several colleges and scholarships that I applied to and was fortunate enough to receive feedback from my mentors and family. If there’s anything I learned in the process, it’s that while you are doing the bulk of the work writing out your story; having those conversations with people close to you can really help you form your essay and collect your thoughts. At first, it was difficult and awkward for me to write about myself, but my conversations with loved ones helped me fill in parts of my story that I did not think had any value. In the end, I got into my first choice, UC Berkeley, where I have continued to be involved in volunteering and news reporting, while on a full ride scholarship through the Gates Millennium Scholarship program.

Thomas opening his acceptance letter to UC Berkeley.

Through this process, I felt like my story mattered. In turn, I hope that those after me will have their voices heard and hopefully have access to a good education, as I do. I can’t see myself anywhere else and I hope that more Pacific Islanders get a similar chance to succeed.

Thomas on his first day of college at UC Berkeley. He’s standing in front of the Sather Gate.

Thomas’s IG Islander Family.

Thomas representing Pacific Islanders at his college orientation.