Sienna DiMuro moved into a homeless shelter during her freshman year of high school in January 2016. As a high school senior in December 2018, she received her acceptance letter to the visual and media arts program at Emerson College.
DiMuro, who is no longer homeless, now lives with her mother in San Diego, California and attends e3 Civic High School, a public charter school. On March 1, San Diego Downtown News ran an article chronicling her journey to college acceptance. DiMuro applied to Emerson as an early action applicant and received her acceptance letter on Dec. 14, 2018.
“I could not believe it, because college was never really a possibility or something that I ever thought of considering,” DiMuro said in a phone interview from her school in San Diego. “I was mind-blown. I still can’t believe it.”
DiMuro applied to other schools but plans to attend Emerson, her top school, if she receives enough scholarship money to cover the cost of attendance.
DiMuro filed a FAFSA and received some financial aid award money from Emerson, but not enough to cover the cost. She also received an award for $10,000 over four years from the Horatio Alger Association, a national organization that rewards student achievement and helps students pay for college.
“[The Horatio Alger scholarship] does not cover most of the tuition, which has been making it a bit more difficult for me to come up with the rest,” DiMuro said. “If we end up covering that, then I will be attending. And if I don’t come up with the rest, then that’ll be a different story.”
Director of Undergraduate Admission Michael Lynch said in a phone interview that the school considers a variety of academic and extracurricular factors when looking at students’ admission profiles. He said that the school considers a student’s financial profile for scholarships and financial aid, but that finances have no impact on admission to the college.
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prevents Lynch from commenting on DiMuro’s acceptance.
“Due to FERPA we are not able to share any information about any student in particular,” Lynch said.
DiMuro was adopted as a newborn in 2001 in Mexico. Her parents planned to bring her back to New York, where they lived at the time, but DiMuro said the U.S. government denied her entry because of heightened security in the wake of 9/11. DiMuro became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
DiMuro and her mother lost their house after her parents divorced in 2013. DiMuro and her mother stayed in Rosarito Beach, Mexico while she attended high school in the U.S. In 2016, they moved into a homeless shelter called Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego.
“We were living on a friend’s couch for a few months,” DiMuro said. “That made it very difficult to cross the border at like 3 or 4 a.m. to make it to school on time at 8 [a.m.]. It was a rough time. That’s another reason why I didn’t think I’d make it through high school.”
DiMuro wants to study visual and media arts at Emerson after pursuing her passion for photography from a young age.
“I was about five or six when I started using my dad’s video camera,” DiMuro said. “As I grew up, I found myself really passionate about photographing people.”
DiMuro’s interest in photography grew as she learned to use it to express herself. She now frequently posts pictures and project updates on her website.
“When I wasn’t sure how to describe what I was feeling to people, I would just show them a picture,” she said. “And then they would understand my background, or things I struggled with, and that’s how it kind of grew from there.”
DiMuro said her time at e3 Civic High School helped her in many ways, including a school-sponsored trip to China in June 2018, where she said she was able to explore her photography in a new part of the world.
“[The school] put me in contact with a lot of people that have helped me test the waters out before,” DiMuro said. “And that’s how I knew that, throughout that journey [to China], I was passionate about art still.”
Cheryl Ward works at e3 Civic High School as the chief of academic innovation and said she and DiMuro have grown close during DiMuro’s time at the school. Ward said in a phone interview from San Diego that she would describe DiMuro as both resilient and tenacious.
“She’s an old soul, she’s quiet, she gets the job done,” Ward said. “You’d never know that there’s anything going on that might be troubling her. She just pushes through.”
DiMuro worked as an intern for Sen. Toni Atkins of California over the course of her first semester of senior year and organized a summer project called “The CommUNITY Lunchbox” to help combat gun violence by helping young children build connections with one another and combat anxiety.
Ward said going on the school trip to China helped her get to know DiMuro better, as she watched DiMuro demonstrate her kindness by helping others and taking pictures of many of her peers on the trip.
“It was just evident to me, as it had been before, that she’s just a giver,” Ward said.
DiMuro visited the college for Picture Yourself Day at Emerson in February and said she immediately felt she had found the right place.
“It felt like home, it felt like I belonged there,” DiMuro said. “It was just a really nice environment.”
Ward said she tried to mentally prepare DiMuro before she received the acceptance letter in case she was rejected.
“When we got the information, we were all there together waiting to see what was going to happen,” Ward said. “I talked to her before, and I said, ‘Okay, no matter what happens, it’s all good—it’s meant to be. It’ll be okay.’”
Ward said she and her colleagues were just as overjoyed as DiMuro when she got the letter on a Friday afternoon.
“She started crying, and I started crying,” Ward said. “It was just a great moment.”