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McMahon High Valedictorian Is Undocumented — And Heading To Harvard

Laura Veira watches on YouTube as she waits for her acceptance letter from Harvard University.
Laura Veira watches on YouTube as she waits for her acceptance letter from Harvard University. Video Credit: YouTube/Laura Veira

NORWALK, Conn. -- After watching her computer screen for minutes that seemed like an eternity, Brien McMahon High School valedictorian Laura Veira finally got the word from Harvard University that she had been waiting for.

Veira, an undocumented Norwalk resident from Colombia, learned in December that she had been accepted at Harvard. She posted a dramatic account of seeing the message come through on YouTube, as her mother and father watched in the background.

Veira reacted with tears of joy, staring at the screen in disbelief. She will also receive full tuition assistance, along with aid to purchase books and supplies.

What’s even more unbelievable however, is the journey from Colombia to Norwalk and her ascent to the top of the class in the public high school.

“I am honored to stand before you today as another proud, undocumented Latina who is unafraid, unashamed and here to stay,” Veira said to thunderous applause in her address at the Brien McMahon High graduation ceremony on June 15.

In a story in The Hour, Veira said her family moved from Colombia when she was 3 years old. She hid her undocumented status up until last year, and received support from Connecticut Students For A Dream. Veira knew her best chances to attend college was at an Ivy League institution because they do not require proof of documentation.

She also wrote a letter to members of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly earlier this year to urge reform in providing financial aid to undocumented students who want to attend college.

“I definitely have worked hard to get to where I am today, but that does not mean that many other undocumented students have not worked just as hard,’’ Laura wrote. “Getting accepted into a school that will offer to pay your whole tuition is rare for any group of people, not just undocumented students. We are met at a particular disadvantage because we don’t qualify for state or federal aid and are offered less aid when forced to apply as international students to some schools.”

Her brother, a full-time student at Norwalk Community College, works six days a week to pay his tuition. An older sister attends Williams College.

A recent report estimated the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at 11 million. It has also become a hot political issue, with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump indicating he plans to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall along the border of Mexico and the United States.

Veira, like so many other undocumenteds, says she is here to stay. She also hopes to encourage others to push for change.

““It’s not just that I’m Hispanic and also undocumented, it’s that I’ve made it this far. So if I can do this, then other people can achieve their dreams as well,” Veira said in The Hour.

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