Daihana Estrada was just 17-years-old when she was left homeless after her parents, who had come to America illegally 20 years earlier, were deported from Utah to Mexico.
Born in California, she chose to move in with her older brother, who was is just three years older, who lived in Chicago.
But the problems for Estrada didn’t end there.
“It was very unstable because he was with me, he was going through his own issues, so I was on my own,” she said.
As a senior at John Hancock College Preparatory High School, she would eat what she could and where she could, sleep on her friend’s couches, and even picked up a job in retail to support herself.
Her senior English teacher Vanessa Puentes, who is now the principal of her alma mater, stepped up to help, saying it was because she believed in Estrada’s dreams for herself.
The educator taught the student life skills and more.
“She didn’t have a place to live. She’s lived with my family and we’ve built a very strong relationship over the past 10 years,” Puentes said.
Despite all of her difficulties, Estrada graduated high school and was accepted to the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was given a full ride and a scholarship from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to help her with campus housing.
Sunday, Estrada was the keynote speaker at her former high school’s 2021 graduation ceremony that was held at Soldier Field. She told the students the truth about her struggles while encouraging them to never give up.
“Have that courage to start that dream and then have that resilience to stay on that path,” she said. “Any dream that they have is doable and to go for it. You can do it. We’ll be on the other side waiting for you.”
Estrada, now 29-years-old, has her own apartment in Pilsen and just graduated from Loyola University School of Law in May, becoming the first scholarship recipient to do so.
Now, her goal is to help immigrants like her parents. Until then, she is spending all of her time studying for the bar exam next month.
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