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First-Gen Stories: The Sky is the Limit

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Kristen Aurelio Technical Program Manager

Humble Beginnings  

I come from very humble beginnings. At 18, my mom turned down a scholarship for a degree in architecture in order to raise her family. By the time they were 22, my parents had a family of five to support (Fun fact: they celebrated their 44th Wedding Anniversary this year). My parents worked hard to provide us with life’s necessities. Looking back, I often felt like there had to be more to life than just working to survive.   

As a kid, I tested into advanced-level courses; however, by the time I reached eighth grade, it was clear that my test results and performance were not aligned. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) during a time when it was not yet widely accepted as an actual condition. Available resources to help me manage the effects of ADD were slim at best. My grades rapidly declined, along with my self-esteem and ambitions for an education. School had become my enemy. I would ask myself, “Why was everything so hard?” I knew I was smart and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t keep up. Putting my feelings of frustration into words seemed impossible…until it was.  

Life Tests  

After high school, I attempted one semester at a Community College that (predictably) did not go well. I switched gears and enrolled in a trade school. During this time, I started to research ADD and its impact on learning. Through my research, my perspective began to change. ADD wasn’t a roadblock, rather it was a component of my learning process. In my quest to educate myself on how to work around my disadvantages, a newfound confidence and ambition arose. I left the trade industry and enrolled in college at age 22. I knew it was possible, and was determined to break the cycle of poverty through education.  

During my first semester back, I learned I was expecting a child. My parents promised me they would do everything they could to enable me to complete my schooling. The next semester, I was put on bed rest and forced to take an Incomplete in my courses. Life was testing me, and I was determined to not be a victim of circumstance. My third semester back, I had an eight-week-old baby, a full course load, AND the responsibility to complete the four courses I had received an ‘Incomplete’ in the semester before. I was enrolled in eight courses total while also working two jobs to pay for school.   

Some days I would have to function on two hours of sleep, but I was committed to finishing no matter what it took. Not only did I graduate community college with honors, I received a scholarship to complete my Bachelor’s degree. In spite of the many obstacles, I graduated Cum Laude. In hindsight, I have a deep sense of gratitude toward my parents. They gave my daughter and I something more valuable than money: they gave us their time and their unwavering support.  

The sky is the limit…  

My educational journey has taught me that nothing is impossible. It taught me that integrity and hard work pay off, and that diversity makes the world a better place. Through my academic and professional careers, I have learned that I am capable of almost anything (I will never eat mayo or seafood…if Five9 does a series on irrational food aversions I’ll tell you all about mine!). I have found personal success beyond my wildest dreams. Because of my tenacity, I have travelled to places I never thought I would see. I am proud to have set a wonderful example for my daughter. My parents are the hardest working people I know, and they are proud of me.   

And most importantly, I broke the cycle. I have my education to thank for that.  

Inspired by this story? Contact to learn more. If you would like to share your story, contact

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Kristen Aurelio Technical Program Manager

Call 1-800-553-8159 to learn more about Five9