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Advocate, student, daughter, wife, and future Harvard graduate

Denisse VazquezFor the class of 2018, Harvard Law School admitted fewer than 18 percent of the 5,207 applicants. Denisse Vazquez, MSU Denver senior and political science major, was one of the lucky few.

“My professor and the department chair talked me into applying,” Vazquez said. “I didn’t think I had a chance but they believed in me so much that they paid my application fee.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a long way from where Vazquez started when she thought about going to college. Not only is she the first in her family to go to college, she had to fight against her family’s wishes to apply to MSU Denver. Her grandmother wanted her to get married and start a family. Her father feared her not being able to fit in at a university. Her siblings depended on her to get them to school and activities. She herself feared she would fail.

She proved to everyone—especially herself—that she could not only go to college but that she could succeed in ways that she never dreamed. And it’s all because she walked into the wrong classroom her first semester.

“A lot of my success has been because I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I accidently walked into Dr. David Weiden’s political science class and he sparked my interest in the major.”

Initially she wanted to major in criminology and attend the police academy so she could assist immigrants, similar to her family, as a police officer. When she discovered political science and the legal field, she changed majors and started on the path to a law degree. Her goal is to advocate for others as an immigration attorney.

“I’ve had to be the voice for my family,” she said, speaking of her four brothers and sisters and her parents Jorge and Ana. “They count on me to help them, especially with legal issues or official business.”

Family and community are very important to Vazquez. Advocating and educating others comes naturally for her yet she still takes the responsibility very seriously. It’s one reason that she also applied, and was accepted, to law schools in Colorado.

However, she’s not doing it on her own. Vazquez got married in summer 2015 to Antonio Torres. “The last six months were a whirlwind as I was studying for the LSAT, working, going to class, taking care of my siblings, and planning a wedding,” she said.

Vazquez and Torres will move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, this fall in time for her to start her first term at Harvard Law School. “Antonio started packing our bags when I found out that I got accepted to Harvard,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez credits her luck for being in the right place at the right time, and the faculty and staff at MSU Denver, for the opportunities she has found during her academic career. She never felt out of place, one of her father’s fears, nor that she couldn’t succeed, her own fear.

“There’s so much diversity here, everyone seems to understand the struggles students go through,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have the support and encouragement I got from my professors, Brandi Scott in TRiO, and Alison Lough in Student Persistence.”

Now the student who is the first in her family to buck the odds and go to college, discovered her major by accident, and scored in the top five percentile of the LSAT has some decisions to make about her future. “I have a lot of expectations for myself now,” she said. “I learned to expect more at MSU Denver. This place helped me realize that I can achieve anything.”

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