Redfin’s Scholarship Winner Examines Community in Tucson, Arizona

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Redfin’s Scholarship Winner Examines Community in Tucson, Arizona

The Redfin Scholarship is a way for Redfin to help students on their journey through higher education. The scholarship application period occurs twice yearly with awards given to a student in both the spring and fall. Here is the student essay that won the 2017 fall scholarship. Congrats Emma Derstine!

Tuscon AZ

Essay Prompt: The place (or places) where we were raised often have a profound effect on who we become as adults. What effect has the community that you were raised in had on who you are today?

Okay, maybe it isn’t true that each Tucson native is carved from the rib of the saguaro and raised on pico de gallo and pure sunshine. But there is something special about those of us that hail from the Old Pueblo. I feel it in the little things, the quirks. It’s the double-dutch songs always sung in Spanglish, the beer and homemade tamales left out for Santa in lieu of milk and cookies, the way we never really stop smelling like sunscreen or mooning over exposed adobe. It’s how the desert sighs in relief, in release, and we all sigh with her—like the “om” at the end of a yoga class —when the rain finally comes.

There are the bigger things too, but those are harder to recognize. I feel it in the lessons that never took words, the ones that never become a mantra to memorize and regurgitate but are instead a felt experience. They are the deeply personal truths that I am still growing into, growing alongside. It’s learning from the sky to give and receive warmth, without forgetting how to monsoon. It’s learning from the cacti that there is a way to nurture and protect other living beings while still sprouting spines—because not all deserve your fruit. It’s the beauty, but not without the venom. It’s every other car having a “Be Kind” bumper sticker, or one that reads, “Share the street! Give a bike five feet!” It’s growing up in a community where inclusivity is the first ingredient, a community where you can not only cultivate your inner-weird, but let it bloom.

When it comes time to leave, don’t be surprised if they stop you at the airport for the suitcase full of Mexican candy. Be sure to harvest her sunshine in your bones like rainwater, and never, ever count how many sunsets you’ve spent away from home. Most importantly, don’t forget her storms or her street names, and she won’t forget yours. Your roots are here, after all, and like most things in the desert, they don’t rust easy. I know that Tucson is part of me; her mountain ranges are my constant compass. Come August, they wax green and I wax poetic. To be in tune with Tucson is a peace I feel lucky to know. Being a Tucsonan has paved the road for me (potholes and all) to pursue true self-expression, to fight for diversity and sustainability, and to always roll fresh fruit in chili powder.

Student Biography

Emma Derstine is a Tucson-native and University High School graduate. She moved to Gambier, Ohio where she is currently a sophomore English major and soccer player at Kenyon College. This past summer, she returned to Tucson for an internship with Mayor Rothschild where she realized just how deep her Tucson roots go. 


The spring application period is from November 1 – January 31. Click here for more information.

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