Inspiration comes in many different forms including people, places, and experiences. Sometimes it’s a combination of factors as in the case of University of New Mexico 2020 graduate Destinie Angel Otero.
For Otero, a first-generation graduate, inspiration came through the maladaptive behavior of her parents coupled with her desire to choose a better life through education while also helping others. Otero was born to a teen mom who was 16 and living with her parents. As Otero grew up, she thought about attending college, but at the time, it was only a dream.
“When I was younger, I could only dream of attending college and now my dream has become my reality through dedication, passion, and the inspirational mentors present in my life,” said Otero. “In graduating today, I reflect on the experiences and advocates I had in my life that have allowed me to blossom into the woman I am.”
As a child, Otero suffered from a vast amount of adversity due to her biological parents’ maladaptive behaviors. Despite being a minority born into these behaviors, which is often a difficult cycle to break, it was the advocates, including her grandmother and Godmother, she had in her life that served as a protective factor from allowing her to perceive a life of inherited unfortunate circumstances as anything but “normal.” Otero was adopted at the age of 12 by her grandmother and Godmother and took advantage of what she perceived as a “second chance in life” to become the best version of herself and to live a life only she could imagine.
“My mom started getting into sticky situations with very toxic men engaging in crime and her addiction,” Otero said. “So, like every weekend, I would go with my grandparents, my godmother who is my Niña, and my grandma, who is my Naña, and I started to see both worlds. I saw those worlds that were full of darkness including using substances and toxic relationships versus when I would go with my Niña and Naña. I felt loved. I felt nurtured. I felt like I had parents; like a parent's true love.”
Her Niña especially was really inspiring because she always felt comfortable confiding in Otero with what was going on. She would always tell her, ‘you know, this time too will pass right? Through all of these obstacles that you're going through, have faith and believe in God and he will take care of you.’ Otero stuck with that whenever she was in uncomfortable spaces and living back and forth with her mom while learning to have great faith and to rely on God.
“In working hard and being granted the opportunity to attend college despite the challenges I had endured in my life, it is education that has allowed me freedom in my life.” – Destinie Angel Otero
As a result of these experiences, she adopted a mindset at a young age to perceive her life as a “blessing in disguise” for having first-hand experiences in recognizing all of the negative behaviors she would reject later in life as an adult. In promising herself to never adopt the same lifestyle her parents had, she kept believing what her Godmother would always say, "Knowledge is power." Otero realized how gaining an education could be a source to achieve her life's goals and became motivated to be successful through education.
“At that age, I had a big dream to become a doctor,” she said. “And so I moved forward with prioritizing the importance of my education to make my founded parents proud and to be a role model for my two younger sisters. As a result, I maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.8 throughout middle school and high school, joined many extracurricular activities, and got selected to be a part of various honorary clubs.”
Before she knew it, the time had come to apply for college, the next step in her education. As a first-generation student, she had no idea how to navigate the process to apply for college nor the options available. This next chapter in her life brought another inspirational person, her college and career counselor at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, who helped guide her next steps.
“It was those educators like that who were passionate about guiding and helping students surpass their limits,” said Otero. “With compassionate guidance through support and constant reminders of ‘You could do it,’ my high school college and career counselor Angelica Delgadillo set me on a path to be nothing but successful in the next chapter of my life.”
Otero was accepted to The University of New Mexico and received The New Mexico Leadership Institute Scholarship, an innovative five-year program that targets New Mexico high school juniors who have demonstrated a particular aptitude for leadership, creativity, resourcefulness, and an entrepreneurial spirit, and who may be at risk of dropping out of high school or not attending college. The scholarship allowed Otero to attend college completely paid for, and to continue pursuing her degree.
As part of the scholarship, Otero had to do a year-round project on a defining issue she felt was important to New Mexico and how she could utilize an approach or do something in defining that issue. With the experience of her childhood in mind, she felt addiction and incarceration was an issue not only for her community, but also the world in general.
“I wanted to work with women and families and help address the risk factors for women becoming incarcerated and putting their children at risk for becoming incarcerated because of these maladaptive or unhealthy behaviors in their life,” said Otero. “I wanted to help by being a part of the program's motto in ‘Breaking Cycles. Building Lives.’ I felt like I had escaped a cycle in my life so I wanted to give back in some way and so I chose to collaborate with Crossroads for Women, which is a nonprofit organization here in town.
“They specifically focus on providing different therapeutic services to help women learn adaptive coping skills and create a fulfilling life post-incarceration. And so in collaborating with Crossroads, I chose to incorporate a mentorship program that would foster a protective factor for the women's children, through delivering various activities that focused on setting goals for their best-envisioned life, identifying strengths, building self-confidence, building healthy relationships, and self and career exploration.”
As another chapter was about to begin in which Otero believed was the beginning of her path for becoming what she aspired to be, she kept reflecting on some other words of wisdom from her Godmother, ‘Hard work always pays off and anything worth it is hard.’
During college, while taking courses in the field of psychology, several individuals also helped guide Otero’s education including faculty members Stephen Alley and David Lardier and program specialist Marni Goldberg, who helped Otero get into a highly-selective addiction counseling program in the psychology department that allows students to take classes with a clinical emphasis and actual clinical applied experience in the field. This experience has given Otero the desire to pursue a master’s as a licensed clinical social worker and eventually open her own practice that caters to women and children.
“In working hard and being granted the opportunity to attend college despite the challenges I had endured in my life, it is education that has allowed me freedom in my life,” said Otero. “It is through college that I have come to discover a sense of meaning and purpose. My college courses led to the field of psychology, and family and child studies. Through these fields of study, I discovered my passion for wanting to be a mental health professional who could be an advocate within my own community to help individuals who have endured similar life challenges to learn and engage with adaptive coping skills to live a fulfilling life. In this closing chapter, I made it here today and will continue to grow with the inspirational guides I have in my life. Thank you all for believing in me, you all are so appreciated.”