‘A scholarship was my only hope’
Emily Cordova – first-generation college student and Pay It Forward Scholarship recipient – helps return the favor to First Tee mentee
February 05, 2020
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- February 05, 2020
Emily Cordova helps return the favor with her First Tee mentee
It can be argued that the most powerful determinations are those born from a lack of alternatives.
By her own admission, Emily Cordova found odds stacked against her early in life. More significantly, though, were the struggles she witnessed her mother, an Oaxaca, Mexico native, contend with in her efforts to provide the two of them a safe, sound life in Northern California.
After immigrating from Mexico in the early 80s, Teresa Cordova gave birth to Emily in 1997.
As an only child, Emily, now 22, learned early on there would be no short cuts in life. Like her mother, Emily would work exceptionally hard for all she got – and all she is on track to get.
“My mom struggled a lot as a single mom,” Emily said. “She realized that if she wanted to give me a good life, she had to work two jobs, sometimes three. That meant she hardly ever got to see me when I was a kid. So, it was very difficult, but she definitely did it all on her own.”
From their Monterey County apartment, Teresa befriended an older woman who became such a close friend to the Cordovas that Emily would soon come to see her as her grandmother.
As a kid, Emily knew too little about the wide world around her to get discouraged by what came difficult to her and her mother.
“I wouldn’t say I was really discouraged as a kid, because I didn’t know any better,” Cordova said. “But, as I grew up, things did get discouraging. We had no money, I was of different color, and felt like no one looked like me. Looking back, I think that helped me find a much deeper appreciation for how things are working out.”
For as long as Emily can remember, her mother had professed the merits of a higher education, something Teresa did not have. With only a high school diploma, the only job she could secure was cleaning rooms in a Seaside, California hotel.
“I struggled with reading and writing as a kid. I just didn’t want to do it,” Emily said. “But, my mom and grandmother stayed on me and never gave up on me.”
As Emily grew, she came to realize that without a desire to learn, she would get nowhere in life. As much as anything, Emily wanted to thrive for her mother and grandmother who had invested so much into positioning her for success.
She credits a middle school creative writing teacher for opening her creative mind and, thus, her potential to succeed in ways she never thought possible.
“At first, I thought about a community college and working at the same time,” she said. “But, my mom and high school counselor really felt I needed a four-year school.”
But, no one saw how that would ever be financially possible.
“I had always been interested in the mind and how it works,” she said. “I took AP Psychology in high school and was fascinated by how things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders come about.”
In spite of that interest, she could not see any way for such an education to come to fruition.
That would change.
The Pay It Forward Scholarship and Mentoring Program – with thanks to AT&T, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and the Future Citizens Foundation, which is located at the local First Tee chapter – provides a four-year scholarship at California State University, Monterey Bay. It’s offered to first-generation college students in Monterey County, the home of this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA TOUR.
In the spring of 2015, Emily was in Mexico visiting family when her high school counselor received a call to let her know that Emily had been chosen as one to interview for the potential scholarship.
“We all went crazy, because we didn’t know if I could get back in time for the interview,” Emily said. “Plus, our apartment building was being remodeled, so none of our stuff was in there. I didn’t know how I would find anything to wear even if I did make it in time.”
Emily’s mom bought her a dress, shoes and made sure she was back in time.
“It was a very emotional interview process,” she said. “They asked about my aspirations and motivations. I talked a lot about my parents and their history and how everything my mom had done was what had motivated me to keep going.”
Emily then did something in the interview she felt certain would cost her any chance of being selected.
She broke down and cried.
“A scholarship was my only hope,” Emily said. “Then, one day, I got a letter in the mail that said I had been selected.”
From hundreds of applicants, Emily was one of less than a dozen selected.
A lack of alternatives, Emily learned, is one of life’s crossroads. One can always give in or never give up.
Recently, through the efforts of its fans, sponsors, tournaments, players and volunteers, the PGA TOUR eclipsed the $3 billion mark in all-time charitable giving. It’s a number so astounding that it’s difficult to comprehend and humanize.
The best way to comprehend is by example.
Right now, there is a 22-year-old Psychology major with a Statistics minor in her fifth year at California State University, Monterey Bay, serving as tangible evidence of the TOUR and its partners’ charitable hearts.
“We are so proud of the Pay It Forward Scholarship and Mentoring Program – and of Emily,” said Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and Tournament Director of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “She has accomplished a great deal in the past four years. She’s been a wonderful mentor to her mentee – an 11-year old First Tee participant. …(Emily) benefited significantly from the values and generosity of the sport. I have no doubt she will pay it forward in her life.”
“If I didn’t have the support system from the Future Citizens Foundation and Pay It Forward Scholarship and Mentoring Program, I honestly don’t think I could have ever done it,” Emily said. “And, with the (First Tee) mentoring part of the program, it’s not just a huge support system financially, but emotionally and socially as well.”
Today, Emily serves as a mentor at the First Tee of Monterey County, which is part of the scholarship criteria. Not only does she have four years of college on her resume, but one of those years was spent studying abroad at Roehampton University in London. She is poised to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college, which is unheard of for first generations and for immigrant families,” Emily said. “It would not have been possible without the Pay It Forward Scholarship Program.
“With AT&T and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation helping the Future Citizens Foundation so much this year, more people like me will be able to say, ‘Hey, we can get to the finish line.’”