Editor’s note: These stories are a part of a “First-Gen UT” callout for student responses following the admissions scandal earlier this year. Two more stories from this callout will be published tomorrow. “First-Gen UT” is a yearlong collaborative series that shares the stories of first-generation Longhorns. Stories are published in partnership with The Daily Texan and the UT chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association and Association of LGBTQ Journalists.
In September 2016, doctors diagnosed Tiffany Guard’s father with lung cancer.
Guard, a biology junior, was in high school at the time and was applying to colleges. She said her goal was to get accepted to what she believed was the number one public university in Texas — UT.
But in December 2016, Guard had to stop attending classes to take care of her father, who would often rip out his oxygen tubes and was too weak to move.
“I have to withdraw from school,” Guard said to her principals. “I have to do something because I cannot leave my father by himself.”
“No, no, no. We’ll work with you,” they said.
After the national college admissions scandal that reached UT, Guard remembered all the hard work she put into getting into UT.
“It’s unfortunate that those with more wealth are able to pretty much get whatever they desire and those of lower income have to work so hard even for the slim chance,” Guard said.
In order to make it to college, Guard attended high school only for exams and quizzes and did all of her other assignments in between taking care of her father’s appointments, oxygen, meals and bathroom trips.
She hardly slept because her father needed constant supervision.
One night, Guard started feeling the sleepiness overcome her, so she fell asleep only to abruptly wake up to her father on the floor, unable to breathe.
Every night, Guard prayed to God for a miracle, but it didn’t come. In February 2016, her father passed away.
“Unfortunately, when I wasn’t handed (a miracle), I backed off and I just thought of things rationally like, ‘Oh, my dad isn’t suffering anymore. It’s not God. It’s just life,’” Guard said.
Less than a month later, Guard received a letter from the UT admissions office saying she was eligible for the Coordinated Admissions Program. She said she was not automatically accepted because she was in the top 7.14% of her graduating class, just 0.14% away from automatic acceptance.
“I was given this huge pit I was supposed to climb out of, and it wasn’t good enough,” Guard said. “I lost my dad and I lost that opportunity to be something amazing at this wonderful school.”
She said she chose not to pursue the CAP program and went to Texas A&M University instead.
Guard held in her grief and emotion. She had no support group. She did not have a close relationship with her mother. She had a boyfriend, but she said that’s only so much support.
At A&M, Guard struggled. She said she felt out of place.
Eight months after her father’s death and just before her first semester of final exams, Guard’s mother had a stroke that left the right side of her body paralyzed. Guard said she withdrew from A&M before receiving any college credit to take care of her mother.
When her mother was self-sufficient enough to live on her own, Guard reapplied to UT with the credits she received from online classes at her community college. UT accepted her for the fall of 2018 to study molecular biology in pursuit of a career in oncology.
Now a student at UT, Guard joined the Advocates for Cancer Awareness, where she said she finally found people who understood the hardships she went through. She said she finally has a support group and can properly grieve for her father.
“I held all that grief in, all that emotion,” Guard said. “I got to UT and it was still hidden. I just wanted to forget about it … Once I found that organization, I was fully able to grieve and be myself.”