Public Relations and Marketing Communications
DECATUR—She’s a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar, with a 4.0 grade point average who has been on the President’s List since her first semester at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College.
Yet, there are times when Osiris “Osi” Zelaya can’t believe that she’s in college, pursuing her dream to become a foreign language teacher.
“As a girl whose parents did not know anything about the United States’ education system, whose dad didn’t make it through middle school and whose mom barely passed high school—I made it to college and gained a scholarship,” she said.
A first-generation student, Zelaya was born in the United States, but grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in Atlanta.
Her hardworking parents never completed their education and didn’t see a path for their only daughter either—despite her excellent grades in high school.
Zelaya spoke in Spanish when recalling her father’s response to her desire to attend college.
“He would say, ‘La única manera que vas a poder ir a la Universidad va a hacer por estudiar lo más duro posible y ganar becas. Si no vete a trabajar por que tu madre y yo no vamos a poder pagar tu colegiatura’,” Zelaya said.
In essence, that translation meant: “I knew I had to work hard and find scholarships to go to college,” she said.
Like all her peers in 2020, Zelaya switched to virtual learning during her senior year at Atlanta’s Banneker High because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just before the pandemic shut down in-person instruction, Zelaya had started having debilitating headaches and seizures. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with a cavernous malformation—a noncancerous group of blood vessels in her brain that were hemorrhaging and causing the seizures.
Needing to have brain surgery may have deterred other students, but Zelaya barely missed a beat. She underwent a successful surgery in April 2020 and graduated from high school with honors, choosing to study at Perimeter over several other college offers.
It was just before her surgery that she received her acceptance letter to Perimeter—and news that her tuition would be paid for with a scholarship.
“When I received my acceptance letter from Georgia State Perimeter College and the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Since coming to Perimeter, Zelaya has served as a supplemental instructor (SI) for Dr. Katherine Perry’s English class, tutoring others in English.
“I am really lucky to have met Osi,” said Perry, who teaches English on the Decatur Campus.
“She took both of her composition courses with me and was an absolute star student,” Perry said.“This was last year during the pandemic when everyone was struggling to stay focused, but she has a determination and commitment that will not be deterred.”
Zelaya is happy about being a SI in English.
“I was very interested in helping peers, creating lesson plans and working with Dr. Perry, so I decided to become a SI leader and I am glad I did,” she said.
On track to graduate in May and transfer to the Atlanta campus, Zelaya hopes to pursue a dual degree in Spanish as well as a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate.
Zelaya wants to continue to help other students succeed.
“I am passionate about my culture and learning so I can be able to teach others who yearn to learn and achieve the same as me,” she said.
“Even with the issues I have faced, I still have a duty to work as hard as possible to gain outstanding grades, scholarships and earn a degree without my parents stressing over me financially,” she said.
“My parents have taught me to feel proud of my failures, accomplishments and culture; to never give up nor let anyone stop me, and to work hard for every goal.”