Forty-four days before graduation from Colorado State University, Brayan Montes-Terrazas had just returned home to Denver from New Orleans, where he had helped build houses in the Lower Ninth Ward and worked at an urban farm that builds leadership skills for youth.
The trip was life-changing, he says, but there was a lot on his mind. Montes-Terrazas told his mother that he was scared because he didn’t have a job lined up after graduation.
“You know your Dad and I came here at 22 – your age – with two kids and four dollars to our name,” his mother reminded him. “You think we were scared?”
His mother’s wisdom and his New Orleans trip, where he had seen the aftermath of lives literally washed away, put things into perspective.
Uncertainty of DACA
Montes-Terrazas has a lot to be proud of as a high-achieving, first-generation college student. As president of Dreamers United at Colorado State University, Montes-Terrazas advised President Tony Frank and then-U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, now governor of Colorado, on what it means to be a student under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act.
“My parents moved here from Mexico when I was 3 years old and that has given me a different outlook on life and education,” Montes-Terrazas says. “And I think it also touches a lot of different things in my life on a daily basis.”
For Montes-Terrazas, that has meant living with uncertainty. As a high school senior, it was getting into college as a Dreamer. In college, it was not knowing his status as a student when President Donald Trump pushed to phase out DACA.
During this time, Montes-Terrazas stood up to be a voice for DACA students on campus. He says it was a stressful leadership position that took a toll on his mental health when combined with everything else – he was taking a full class load toward his bachelor’s in marketing, working 20 hours a week, participating in two fraternities, and freelancing as a graphic artist – but he did it out of a sense of commitment.
“When you’re the leader of a group that is so politicized, you have to stay strong,” he says. “You have to go into every meeting knowing that you’re doing it all for a greater cause. I would think to myself – I’m doing this for the closeted Dreamer who is afraid to tell anyone, who’s afraid of what people are going to think.”
In his time at Dreamers United, membership grew from five people to 50, and a fund was established to help Dreamers with emergencies. Most importantly, Montes-Terrazas led the effort to get a counselor on campus to help Dreamers and other students of color.
“I’m a self-motivator and I don’t think I would be a self-motivator if I hadn’t gone through the things I had gone through in college,” Montes-Terrazas says. “Everything comes from inside and this fire and drive to do it.”
Family and friends
The source of that fire he says is his family and friends: His two sisters. His high school cross-country coach, who bought his shoes when he couldn’t afford them. His aunt, who is a proud graduate of CSU. His father, who works in construction to give his family a better life.
And his mother, who worked for 15 years at Wendy’s before starting her own successful business. “She’s always been a dreamer and envisioned success,” he says.
The future is uncertain for Montes-Terrazas, but he’s taking it in stride. He wants to use his marketing degree with his self-taught graphic design skills to go into advertising. Down the road that may include working as a creative director or maybe even graduate school.
As the days inch closer to graduation, Montes-Terrazas said he’s ready for the real world because of his personal experiences and his family. For those following a similar path, he has a bit of advice.
“Take things one day at a time. Find a support network that includes peers and adults, and find a creative or physical outlet,” he says. “Celebrate those small wins and victories where you can, and most importantly – keep your eye on the prize.”