When you’re passionate about something, it’s that passion that drives you. That’s all you need to pursue what you set out to do.
Not every impassioned high school student gets a crash course in advocacy before they've taken their senior finals, but aspiring attorney Manuel Teshe '23 didn't wait until he entered the "real world" to put his ideals into action.
Before graduating high school in 2019, Teshe began working as a paralegal and Spanish-language interpreter at Murray & Associates, a law firm in Boston. There, the political science major helps immigrants under age 21 petition for legal status in the United States through the firm's Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) department.
"One of my responsibilities is handling I-360 forms, under which a child can be granted a green card if they are missing one or both of their parents, or their parents can no longer care for them," explains Teshe, a Posse Scholar from Chelsea, Mass. "It's really high-stakes because if the legal paperwork is filed after a client becomes a legal adult at 21, then their chance to secure SIJ status evaporates."
It's a job that's become a full-time priority for Teshe during the pandemic, as he works 40 hours a week with the firm while taking Bucknell courses remotely at home. Like many of his clients fleeing instability in Central and South America, Teshe immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador at age 13 after his stepfather and mother were granted legal status.
"I had to start from scratch, and I remember the huge part my parents played in my ability to continue school and focus on building a future," he says. "If I had been here without my parents, I wouldn't have had the same opportunities."
Hearing the stories of teenagers who, much like himself, came to the U.S. seeking opportunity is why Teshe does "all I can to widen the access young immigrants need to push themselves toward a better life, which is the reason they've come to this country."
A Champion for Change
This legal work is far from Teshe's first taste of activism. From marching in support of gun control legislation to petitioning government officials in his own backyard, he has long been a champion for change.
Before arriving at Bucknell, Teshe helped lead a coordinated movement to hold an outdoor graduation ceremony for his senior class at Chelsea High School. For years, space limitations in the school's gymnasium limited the number of relatives that graduates could invite to witness their milestone accomplishment. Fearing damage to the campus's newly renovated football stadium — a $3 million investment — the school's administration was hesitant to hold the ceremony outdoors.
But Teshe and his classmates dug their heels in, spending months writing petitions and attending city council and school board meetings, where they advocated for the purchase of ground protection mats. The students even launched a fundraising campaign to cover the significant cost and raised $1,400 in a matter of days. In June 2019, the graduating class walked the stage before a full audience of friends and family after the city council allocated $170,000 from its budget to make the outdoor ceremony a reality.
"It was so satisfying to see my peers band together to make a change, and that's why it was so successful — because it wasn't just one person, it was a whole group led by a common goal," Teshe says. "When you're passionate about something, it's that passion that drives you. You ignore any doubt or worry about what others will say or think. That's all you need to pursue what you set out to do."
When it comes to pursuing his passions as a paralegal and pre-law student at Bucknell, Teshe takes a disciplined approach in order to stay balanced — "focusing on work when I'm working and on school when I'm learning," he says. To stay on top of it all, Teshe writes nearly every task down and keeps meticulous track of deadlines via Google Calendar. In those rare quiet moments, he still finds time to play video games with friends and browse YouTube videos.
Ensuring his mental health stays strong is one of the main ways he remains motivated. Knowing that his legal work with immigrants is making a substantial difference is another, along with the endless opportunities for intellectual and growth in his courses at Bucknell.
"Loving what I'm doing in my education and my job provides a kind of therapy amid all of the responsibilities I juggle," says Teshe, who plans to attend law school after graduating. "Again, passion is the key factor. That's the main reason that I keep going."