First-generation Wildcat determined to 'keep reaching' for her goals

University of Arizona student and her father laughing as they push a bin full of belongings towards a dorm room

University of Arizona first-year student Amarissa Carabajal and her father, Moises, laugh at the picture on Amarissa's new CatCard as they move her belongings into the Honors Village dorm at the W.A. Franke Honors College.

Chris Richards/University Communications

Amarissa Carabajal knew she wanted to be a Wildcat from the moment she first stepped onto the University of Arizona campus almost 10 years ago. She remembers walking alongside her parents and meeting excited college students.

"The campus is huge, but in my head at the time it felt ginormous," Carabajal said. "We visited during classes, and we saw all of the students and I remember some of them would see my family and say, 'Go Wildcats' and 'Bear Down.' I liked their sense of pride. I wanted to have that pride, too."

Carabajal's Wildcat pride was on full display when she and several hundred of her new neighbors and future classmates moved into the Honors Village dorm at the W.A. Franke Honors College. Pushing a cart filled with boxes and belongings, Carabajal not only sported a UArizona shirt, but a pair of vintage Nike high tops complete with university branding and Wilbur Wildcat's face.

Vintage sneakers with the University of Arizona name on the side and Wilbur the Wildcat on the tongue

Amarissa Carabjal wore her University of Arizona-branded shoes the day she moved into her dorm.

Chris Richards/University Communications

A gift from her family, the shoes were the perfect accessory for move-in day. Carabajal comes from a long line of Wildcat supporters and is proud to be the first in her family to attend UArizona. She will study veterinary science in the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. After earning a bachelor's degree, she plans to enroll in the College of Veterinary Medicine and eventually become a veterinarian.

"My whole life, I've always had a pet and I think they have had the biggest impact on me," she said, "They are so comforting. When people say, 'Dogs are a man's best friend,' that is really true for me. I want to help animals, because they can't tell you what's wrong."

Carabajal said her career goals came into focus in seventh grade when her science teacher asked each student about their aspirations. Carabajal realized at that moment what she wanted to do in life.

"I know a lot of people say they want to grow up and be a veterinarian but become something else, but I have been true to my word," she said.

From Yuma to the university

While she may be settled in her new dorm room, Carabajal's road to UArizona has stretched thousands of miles across oceans and continents. Her father is a recently retired Marine, and the Carabajal family has relocated several times. The family lived in Arizona, North Carolina and Japan. Carabajal was born in Yuma, and when she was in eighth grade her family moved to Naval Air Facility Atsugi in the city of Ayase, in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan.

Amarissa Carabajal

Amarissa Carabajal says attending the University of Arizona "has been my dream, the goal I have been trying to reach these last 12 years of school – and it's really happening now."

Chris Richards/University Communications

Carabajal said she experienced and eventually overcame culture shock while in Japan and formed several close friendships there. The family moved back to Yuma when she was 17, and Carabajal graduated from Kofa High School.

From Yuma to Japan and back again, Carabajal not only grew her social circle but excelled in her schoolwork. She was named a National Hispanic Scholar for her academic achievement during the 2021-22 school year. The award is given to high school seniors by the College Board, a nonprofit organization founded to help students enter and succeed at colleges and universities. The College Board's National Hispanic Recognition Program is intended to specifically assist Hispanic students and connect them with colleges and scholarships.

Carabajal calls herself ambitious and a high-achieving student and said her road to academic excellence began when she was in sixth grade.

"When I got my first report card, I had all A's and I thought it was awesome," she said. "Then, I did it again the next quarter and then the whole year, and I wondered if I could do that for my whole middle school career. Then, I moved during eighth grade, and I got two B's. To me, it was a huge deal. When I didn't achieve my goal of being a straight-A student all of middle school, I told myself I would do it in high school. And that was it: I set long-term goals for myself, and I keep reaching for them."

Carabajal said she looks forward to making new friends in Tucson and exploring the region – especially downtown. Whether in the classroom, on the university Mall or around the city, Carabajal said she is excited to embark on her Wildcat journey.

"This has been my dream, the goal I have been trying to reach these last 12 years of school – and it's really happening now," she said. "Everyone keeps telling me how proud they are of me, but I am proud of me, too. I made it."