Class of 2020: Victoria Alvarez

"There seemed to be no worthier way to spend my life than fighting for education, and I still believe that today. I specifically chose YSI because it invited me to pursue a calling, not just a job." Victoria Alvarez is graduating with a bachelors degree in Youth & Social Innovation.

Why did you choose the Curry School for your program of study?
I’ll admit that I actually tried to stay away from Curry at first. I come from a family of educators and have always had a fierce desire to carve my own path in life. I came to UVA thinking I was going to study psychology, and then, just to be safe, changed my mind 20 times. Somewhere in my second year though, thanks to an identity crisis, camp counselor work, family friends, and chats with Hunter Finch at the Career Center, I figured it out. 

I realized that all my interests and dreams for my life led me to education. I couldn’t avoid it. It seemed to be at the root of all the problems that really mattered to me. Curry made sense for me then. There seemed to be no worthier way to spend my life than fighting for education, and I still believe that today. 

I specifically chose YSI it because it invited me to pursue a calling, not just a job. YSI has helped me explore what a life of working with youth and learning can look like beyond traditional classroom teaching. It has challenged me to design my own career path in education and youth development and create innovative solutions for the problems I care about. 
What is the most significant thing that has shaped your time while you’ve been here? 
I’ve gained some of the richest experiences of my life through the Outdoors Club at UVA. I’ve been involved in the Club since First Year, ultimately serving as a Trip Leader and Officer for all four years. Most of my memories at UVA are of backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and playing with friends in outdoor meccas. The Club has greatly influenced the person I’ve become and has taught me a lot about how I want to spend my life. It has given me a home in the world of outdoor adventuring and the strongest, goofiest network of “dirtbags” to call a family. I’ve never felt a greater sense of belonging and am thankful for all the members who’ve made me feel like I’ve been exactly where I needed to be for the last four years: outside. 

Can you also share a little bit about your work with the World Bank?

Thanks to the efforts and thoughtfulness of Prof. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, I had the unique opportunity to complete an independent study project with the World Bank. I was first introduced to the Bank as a Second Year in Sara’s Introduction to Educational Psychology class. The Bank recruited our help as students in piloting the classroom observation tool, Teach, designed to bring insight into the global learning crisis and inform efforts to improve teaching practices. We served as coders for of videos from classrooms around the world, carefully analyzing teacher and student behaviors to gauge classroom effectiveness. 

Because I showed strong interest and skill in the coding, Sara asked me to come back as a Third Year and teach her new students the tool. I was invited to complete a week-long, Teach Trainer Course at the World Bank Headquarters in D.C. There I trained with Bank employees and educators from all over the world to become certified in delivering the tool to other countries. Following the training, I came back to UVA and instructed Sara’s class of 30 students, preparing them to become reliable coders. 

My work with the World Bank is an opportunity I never expected to have in my lifetime, let alone in college. It still hasn’t fully sunken in yet. I am eternally grateful to Sara, the World Bank, and UVA for taking a chance on me and fueling my life forward through this enriching experience. 

What is one thing you learned during your studies that surprised you most?
The difference between pain and suffering.

I’m taking a Foundations of Mindfulness Practice course this semester with Sam Green. Though it has proved more challenging than I expected, it has also proved very rewarding in reframing how I think about my mind and my life. 

Sam talks to us about the vital difference between pain and suffering. Pain, perhaps physical or emotional, is related to sensation. It’s something we all feel or experience at some point in our lives, and we have no control over it. Pain is unavoidable. Suffering, however, is not. It’s a resistance to pain. It’s the mind wanting the moment to be different than it is. 

For most of my life, I’ve grouped pain and suffering together, as one and the same. And like most humans, I’ve dealt with typical sources of pain: college/work stress, relationship blues, hospital visits, etc. But I’ve also lost a parent too. And that kind of pain is hard to understand, even as an adult. I’ve worked to build a life for myself around strength and resilience, but I’ve always felt deep down that I would carry this pain with me forever. I would always suffer in some way because my life was missing something. And I would just deal with being broken, because I had no other choice. This is what I have believed my whole life. 

So yes, it’s surprising to learn all of this in my last few months of college. And frustrating that it took me 13 years, 2 definitions, and a 1-credit class to truly believe things could be different. But how good it feels to be wrong. 

How are you feeling about being a member of the Class of 2020 in the middle of these unprecedented times?

I’m feeling okay. It’s a weird time to be alive. 

To be honest, I think that being a member of the Class of 2020 right now is an unusually lucky position. I feel very privileged to weather the crisis as a student, and I offer all my love to a nation that’s battling unemployment, healthcare concerns, homeschooling, and more. 

Losing graduation is hard to swallow, but I have to think of it as more of an adjustment than a tragedy. As a class, we haven’t lost our memories, accomplishments, or moments shared together - they are ours to keep forever. We’ve earned them, and there’s nothing wrong with holding onto them. Perhaps we could’ve had a few more, but that will always be the case. Instead of mourning the loss of our special day, I hope that we can celebrate all the magic we’ve managed to find in such a short time here. 

I hope that we persist in finding new ways to share our love, support, and appreciation for each other and this University. And if we don’t see each other for a little while, I think that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we’re forgotten. It just means we’re busy for now. We’re out in the world, spreading good and showing everyone what it means to be a Wahoo. And if that is what we sacrifice our in-person reunion for, I think can live with that. 

What will you be doing next?

Hopefully something wild and adventurous. 

Because of the uncertainties around the COVID-19 pandemic, I hesitate to say for sure what will come next. Most everything is up in the air right now, and even then, I approach future planning like I do the rest of my life – one moment at a time. 

I am interested in pursuing a gap year after my time at UVA. I hope to spend it traveling, working, and volunteering around the world through programs like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), CISV, Workaway, etc. I plan to do this up until early spring, after which I anticipate thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail starting in April. Following the hike, I hope to volunteer in the Peace Corps Youth Development sector and eventually dedicate my life to helping youth develop and thrive.