She can still hear it more than 15 years later: “Mexican girls like Ally are made for house cleaning – not college.”
Ally Bledsoe’s second-grade tutor had uttered that sentence to her after she had trouble pronouncing a word. “I know I was very young,” Bledsoe says, “but I will never forget when I was sitting there and told myself, ‘No matter what happens in my life, I will prove her wrong.’”
In 2018, the same year she graduated high school, Bledsoe enrolled at Cal State San Bernardino as a first-generation biology major. She will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in spring 2023 and is on the path to become a pediatric oncologist.
“It’s very intimidating and it’s very scary,” she admits. “I will be the first doctor in my whole family. I have nobody to look to, so it’s all on me. But it’s also very exciting.”
In her freshman and sophomore years at CSUSB, Bledsoe worked four jobs to pay for school and help her mother with household bills, while also taking care of her grandmother, who has dementia. “It was very hard,” she recalls. “But I managed.”
Luckily, she was the recipient of the Inland Empire Community Foundation’s S.L. Gimbel Foundation Scholarship, created for low-income students enrolled in certain CSUs, including CSUSB, not once, but twice, at $10,000 each. “It helped me out a lot,” she says, noting that she was able to put some into her savings for medical school.
While a lot of the financial burden has been lifted, Bledsoe is still hard at work, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the 5:20 a.m. shuttle from Coachella to the San Bernardino campus every Monday and Wednesday.
“Even though I am very tired, I know that it’s going to be worth it in the end because it will pay off,” says Bledsoe, who works in CSUSB associate professor Jeremy Dodsworth’s research lab. “All the late nights and early mornings – it will pay off.”
Her dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist stems from her love of children.
“Seeing life through a child’s eyes is unexplainable. It’s pure, it’s magical, it’s beautiful,” she says, adding that cancer runs in her family, which is why she chose to pursue oncology.
“I want to help children from all walks of life,” she explains. “I want to show them that there is life during and after cancer because I know cancer is very ugly. I want to find a cure for cancer so no child will have to lose their childhood.”
Bledsoe says part of her motivation comes from those who have doubted her, including her second-grade tutor. “What about getting a husband?” some family members have even asked. “A husband is not going to get me my MD,” she responds. “I will.”
A tough childhood also influenced her commitment to succeed. Bledsoe was born and raised in an area plagued with gang violence, was raised by a single mother in a low-income household, and had a troubled father who was in and out of her life.
Despite her barriers, Bledsoe has always been determined to achieve her goals, not only for herself, but for her best friend – her mother – as well as for her future children and patients.
“I want to give my mom a good life, the life that she deserves,” she affirms. “I want to be able to give my future children the life that I have always wanted, and I want to be the best doctor I can be for my future patients. That’s what pushes me to be great.”
And pursuing higher education was the path she knew she had to take. “I breathe education. I breathe my major. I need it,” she says. “I knew education was the only way out for my mother and I.”
But that does not mean she plans to leave behind the area where she was born and raised. In fact, she hopes to someday open her own pediatric cancer clinic in the Coachella Valley since one does not exist.
“I want to provide that here so the child does not have to change their entire environment as a result of cancer, and the parents do not have to worry about paying for gas and missing a lot of work to be there for their child,” she says. “At my clinic, I want to be able to help every child that comes. I do not care if they cannot afford it. I refuse to turn them away.”
For Bledsoe, kindness and understanding are the most important traits in a doctor, noting that many people think that being a doctor just means being smart.
“Yes, it is being intelligent, but I also think it’s about how you are kind, how you have compassion, how you have empathy,” she explains. “You understand their needs and do your research so you can figure out answers to their questions.”
Soon she will be one step closer to her dreams and walking across the stage at Commencement as a proud, first-generation CSUSB graduate, where more than 80% of its students identify as first generation.
“CSUSB, I think, is the home of first-gens,” she says. “When I graduate, I will be graduating with a lot of first-generations, so it will be a milestone for all of us and we will all experience it together. Even if I don’t know them, we are still connected by being first-generations.”
And while she continues a fulfilling academic journey, she is also currently experiencing a deeply personal one – a journey of forgiveness.
“Recently my father passed away,” she reveals. “CSUSB provided me with therapy, which in the Mexican culture, that’s looked down upon. I was raised to keep it inside. … I will forever be grateful and will forever be indebted to CSUSB.
“My father has caused a lot of turmoil in my 23 years of life and now that he is no longer here, I am figuring out how to forgive him,” she continues. “Out of everything I have been through in my life, this journey will probably be the hardest one. … I never knew how strong I was until I had to come to terms with forgiving my father without receiving an apology. … I am forgiving my father because I deserve peace.
“I have learned that my story may not have such a happy beginning, but that does not make me who I am – it is the rest of my story. It doesn’t matter how I started. What matters is how I finish. I truly believe that where there is darkness, there will always be greatness.”