Class of 2019 How True Achievement Comes from the Heart

We are beyond inspired by the generosity of Mr. Robert F. Smith’s recent gesture to pay off the debt for all of the 2019 Morehouse graduating seniors, which will allow each of them to have an opportunity to move into the next chapter of their lives with peace of mind regarding their school loans, and at once teach them about the power of paying it forward. With every amazing opportunity there is always a risk of failure, but with the success Mr. Smith experienced he understood that gain is much greater than a constant worrying about the potential loss. The impact he has made on the lives of each of the graduates will reach far more than he will ever know, an exponential gift by someone who lives and breathes the notion of paying it forward.

How are we paying it forward to the BELatina Class of 2019?

Grace Olguin USC BELatina
2019 USC Graduates Represent! Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico

BELatina is a leading cultural destination for brave thinking like-minded women and bold ideas that matter. We are inspired to go deeper and change the conversation. Our mission is to showcase inspirational women through a distinctive combination of diversity, intelligence, and authentic voice underscored by ambitious journalism, which we believe is currently lacking in most women-centric publications.

We take on culturally relevant angles that set us apart from general market sites, depicting the subtleties of the cultural zeitgeist across the country, which currently trend powerfully toward a new kind of empowered Latina/Afro-Latina—think, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Serena Williams, Rosario Dawson, and Emma Gonzalez, while honoring the honoring many who led the way. BELatina unpacks and celebrates this monumental cultural shift, to create even more space for the evolution of Latina/Afro-Latina empowerment across multiple themes and channels.

I would like to introduce the Class of 2019 Latina’s Who Inspire, each of these graduates share their challenges, successes and what inspired them.

Myra Pimentel

Myra Pimentel Long Beach Graduate
Photo Credit IG @myragris

Are you a first generation graduate? Yes, first generation graduate and first person in my family to graduate college.

Graduated from CSU, Long Beach with a B.A. in Psychology & Minor in Public Relations.

Will you continue your education?

Not for now, I already got a job lined up for after graduation!

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

Being able to work in the Strategic Communications department at CSULB and manage CSULB’s official social media accounts for two years while being a full-time students and having four other internships through that time.

Most challenging experience?

Realizing what career field I truly wanted to go into a little too late and having to create my own path in that field with a different major. Having to prove myself and my knowledge through internships since my major isn’t exactly what I want to practice.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not everyone knows what they want to do right away. Try to see what else is out there and don’t be afraid to question what career path would be best for you.

Caroline Salinas

Caroline Salinas graduate Belatina
Photo Credit @thesweetcarols

Are you a first generation graduate? No,I am a second-generation college graduate because my father has earned his degree.

Graduated from CSU Fullerton B.A. in Communications, and two minors in Cinema & Television Arts and Spanish

Will you continue your education?

I plan to dedicate this summer to applying for graduate school.

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

My greatest accomplishment for my college experience was realizing my passion for diversifying media and finding the confidence to pursue a career in a creative field. It was made possible because of the great professors who taught me about the lack of inclusivity in media and what is being done to change it, as well as empowered me to become in-tune with my talents.

Most challenging experience?

My most challenging experience was leaving a good job I was comfortable in so that I could take an internship in a completely different industry that I was passionate about. I took a big leap of faith that both I and my family were unsure of, but in the end, it was a decision I am thankful to have made and one that led to personal growth and some amazing experiences.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

The advice I would give myself on my first day of school would be to get involved with school organizations as soon as possible. It takes trial and error, but you need to take those first steps. Meeting new people can be scary at first, but good things come when you step out of your comfort zone — whether it’s a fun new experience or learning to grow your confidence. Motivation is contagious, so surround yourself by peers and mentors who are passionate about the same things you are and have similar goals. College will get lonely, but your support system is out there waiting for you to find it.

April Alejandra Barbosa Peña

UCB April Alejandra Latina
Photo Credit IG @sp0radical

Are you a first generation graduate? Yes!

Graduated from UC Berkeley B.A. in Media Studies

Will you continue your education?

I definitely need a break before I can even think about graduate school. I’m pretty burnt out.

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

Making my mom proud. She has worked harder in her life than anyone I have ever known to give me the opportunities I’ve had. I got her name embroidered under mine on my stole because I couldn’t have done it without her. Earning this degree for the both of us was the most rewarding part of the last four years.

Most challenging experience?

Trying to balance two jobs, a full time course load, and debilitating mental illness all at once. I was in an abusive relationship for about six months and was eventually forced to take some time away from school and work in order to heal. Returning to academia after nearly losing my life was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve had to accept that I really will never be the same. I never learned how to prioritize my mental health without feeling weak or ashamed, so putting my emotional well-being first is still a challenge I face everyday.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

Do not settle for spaces that force you to choose between your identities. You are queer and you are brown and you are Latina and you are disabled and you are a woman and you are a first generation student and you are a survivor. There is no “or” – you are all, all at once, and that is beautiful. Do not let anyone make you believe otherwise.

Koraima Herrera

Koraima Herrera
Photo Credit IG @koraimaa_07

Are you a first generation graduate? First Generation graduate from California State University, Fullerton on May 19th 2019

Graduated from CSU Fullerton with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology major with a concentration in Clinical Movement

Will you continue your education?

At the moment I’m moving back home and looking for work because I’m very eager to get into my field and start working. I think I’ll go back to school for certification and who knows maybe I’ll pursue my masters some day.

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

There are lots of things I feel very proud of accomplishing throughout my college experience, from passing classes I didn’t think I would to graduating with Cum Laude Honors. But the thing I’m most proud of is that I graduated college and I’m settling an example to my siblings and cousins or anyone that might look up to me. I’m showing them that if I can do it then so can they. Growing up I didn’t know anyone who had graduated college and I feel it’s important to have a role model to look up to and if I can be that for my siblings or anyone, that is what makes it all worth it.

Most challenging experience?

My most challenging experience was definitely my first semester at CSUF. I had never been away from home. I moved 2 hours away from Indio all the way to Garden Grove. It was really hard being away from my family. My grandpa on my dad’s side who was his only living parent had gotten really sick. He had been battling cancer for a while. My grandpa was back in Mexico and my dad was stuck here in the U.S. We were still in the process of applying for my parents green card when all of this was happening. I know it was really hard on my dad knowing his father was very ill and he couldn’t be by his side. My dad has always been my hero and just seeing him suffer and feeling helpless tore me apart. All his siblings were there in Mexico with my grandpa except my dad, it was the most heartbreaking experience for my dad and all of us.

My first week of classes in CSUF during my 2nd class of the day I get a text from my cousin and in my heart I knew what it was about but for a while I didn’t open it. And then I finally did “Grandpa passed away”. In that moment I didn’t care to be at school, all I wanted to do was go home to my parents to be with my dad. Class ended and I got to call my dad, my mom picked up and passed me my dad and I couldn’t get the words out to even say how sorry I was for his loss. All my dad said was “Esta bien hija ya se, Gracias por llamar”. After that I had to compose myself and go to my next class because we’re not allowed to miss class the first week of school or we get dropped. It made me not want to be at school anymore but I just had to be strong and finish the semester strong. That semester I got all A’s and one B. I was happy I had made it through the semester without giving up.

Then in January we finally got some good news, my parents were approved and had received their green cards! They were finally going home after 21 years. So even through the tough times there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

The advice I would give myself on the first day of school is that don’t doubt yourself because you deserve this just as much as the next person. You’ve made it this far not by chance or luck but because you’ve worked hard to be where you’re at! You’re smart and deserving! The world is yours, there’s no limit to what you can do when you set your mind to it.

Irma Guardado

Are you a first generation graduate? Yes

Graduated from University of San Francisco with a degree in M.A. Professional Communications; San Jose State University B.S. Public Relations

Will you continue your education?

Maybe in the future, perhaps Law school?

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience? I’m proud that during my college experience I learned more about my culture, I did something I always wanted to do which was to learn how to dance folklorco. My greatest accomplishment would be to have graduated with that experience in hand.

Most challenging experience?

When I first started my college experience I was overwhelmed at the lack of diversity. I’m Mexican-American and I speak Spanish at home with my family so when I moved into the dorms and I felt that I lost part of myself because there weren’t enough people who I could speak Spanglish with. My second year of undergrad I decided to join different cultural clubs on campus to meet other people like me. I joined the grupo folklorico on campus. There I met some of my best friends, people shared the same struggles as I did. Some of the people in the group were actually doing their masters and inspired me to do my own. As a first-generation college student, no one in my family had earned a bachelor’s degree, nonetheless a master’s degree. So, this is where I first learned about post-graduate studies.

After finishing my undergrad, I am naïve enough to think that my sense of being imposter would go away. I had done the hardest part and proved I belonged in higher education, but I was so wrong. My imposter syndrome grew. While completing my master’s degree I worked full time, and during my daily commute to San Francisco, I couldn’t help but notice there was very few Latinas, and women of color, on their way to work to the financial district. In my job, I am one of few women of color, and in my grad program, it wasn’t much different (although I must say my program was pretty diverse, but it could be better). I’ve cried about this internal struggle a couple of times. I constantly have to remind myself I am smart enough, that I belong and that I am making room for future generations.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

Be prepared to go out of your comfort zone. Be proud of who you are, and never let anyone ask you to pronounce your name the way you would in “America” (a professor said that in class one time) it was completely unacceptable.

Cynthia Villalobos

Are you a first generation graduate? Yes!

Graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a Criminology emphasis (minor in Business Law)

Will you continue your education?

I definitely plan to continue in my educational journey, although not right away. I will be using my break to keep developing my civic engagement and to research schools for programs which tailor to my goals. I have my eyes set on continuing towards law school, paired with a dual master’s program in public administration/policy.

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

I would say my greatest accomplishment throughout the college experience was finding my voice while pushing past my comfort zones. Many who have known me might find it surprising to hear that I spoke in class and participated often, because I grew up doing the complete opposite in school environments. Picking a curriculum which interested me significantly, truly sparked my curiosity to keep asking questions and think critically about the material. I loved what I was learning, and it made all the difference for me.

Most challenging experience?

Throughout my college years I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which stemmed from various factors, and it became difficult for me to be fully present when I was around my loved ones. Despite this, I pushed through and aimed to really harness my weaknesses just as much as my strengths. It was not the easiest task considering that I took on arguably more responsibilities than I should have–including teaching, research, volunteer, and internship roles simultaneously with my full-time class schedules. I was able to come to terms with myself, seek assistance, and persevere.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

I would tell myself to ignore imaginary timelines for the completion of life chapters. For a while, I felt constantly preoccupied with the fact that many of my classmates were younger than I was. Needless to say, it was all in my own mind. I would advise myself to trust the process and keep working the only way I knew how to: diligently. Now that I have finished my undergraduate journey with a scholarship, no debt, “real-world” experience, and a clearer vision of the kind of life I wish to design for myself, I look back at the time I spent worrying and simply smile. I could not be more excited for my future.

Grace Olguin

Grace Belatina Graduates
Photo Credit Grace Olguin

Are you a first generation graduate? Yes, first to get a Bachelor’s (2013) and a Masters (2019) degree

Graduated from University Southern California, Master of Public Administration

Will you continue your education?

Yes I am interested in pursuing a PhD.

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

My greatest accomplishment is that although I struggled to bring peace and tranquility (i.e. less worry, fear, anxiety) to my mind these last two years, I never gave up on trying. Although my time was limited because I worked full-time during the day and went to school full-time in the evenings, I made time for what mattered to me. I held a volunteer position with Prison Education Project (PEP) where I co-facilitated a “Women’s Empowerment” course to 7 incarcerated women. I performed at open-mics, I launched my first radio show/podcast. Giving back–through PEP, through narrative in writing and in music–allowed me to feel purposeful, motivated, and like I was also giving back to myself.

Most challenging experience?

I think it is not unusual for POC, first-gen, low-income students to feel impostor syndrome in many spaces of higher ed. It was a challenge many times to not doubt myself. To feel like I made the right decision returning to school. To feel committed to this program. There were many moments throughout my first year where I truly felt like dropping out.  I can openly say I experienced stress, depression, and anxiety as a student who worked full-time, had full-time units, commuted, and had many other responsibilities on my plate. I missed out on a lot of things, both at school and in my personal life, because my time and energy was limited. But despite the sacrifices, I had to remember that I deserved to be there, not only because I worked hard, but because I care deeply about my family, my community, and the impact I can have in making the world a better place.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school? 

Being away from my family and friends in order to complete my program was one of the hardest things. But I became a part of a new family. If I hadn’t found my community on campus, I feel I wouldn’t have made it. They played a significant role to get me through, because they were going through it, too.

I would say, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. No doubt you will feel stressed, overwhelmed, limited and exhausted. But learning how to conserve your energy and being open with your support system will help you succeed. You have the love of family and friends. They believe in you. And through these challenges, that love is only going to grow bigger.

Marcela Escorcia

Marcela Escorica Belatina
Photo Credit Marcela Escorica

Are you first generation graduate? Yes, I made my familia y mi gente proud!

Graduated from Estrella Mountain Community College with an Associates of Arts in General Studies

Will you continue your education? Yes! I will be attending ASU to become an elementary school art teacher!

Greatest accomplishment for your college experience?

My greatest accomplishment for my college experience is passing all of my classes and my art works making it into the art shows. My biggest accomplishment in my heart for college is when I made 3D art works dedicated to honor my Mexican culture, Catholic religion, and the life of Frida which made it to the annual Art show in my college. I am so fortunate to have been able to express my passion for art in such a way to myself, my family, my college and community. I couldn’t have ever done this without Jesus and my family.

Most challenging experience?

My most challenging experience was in my first year of college when I didn’t know what career path to take. I felt lost and like everyone was ahead of me. I had to look more in depth into what I actually wanted to do, and what I love to do with a passion. I took my time to look back into my childhood and see what I was always good at and enjoyed doing up till this day. This is what led to my path towards an art career with an interest to educate the younger generations. I believe in using my art to change the world and stay true to myself. This will help younger children spark their inner creativity and feel happy to be a part of this world.

What advice to would you give yourself on your first day of school?

Even if you are an introvert you shouldn’t be shy to talk to new people. You should join clubs with people who share similar interests or even a different interest to learn from different perspectives. Start studying everyday, and remember that the real world is like a huge universe where everyone wants to be a shiny star. But you, you must be the sun and  bring illumination to all the stars and planets around you.

Thank you to all of the 2019 graduates who shared their stories of inspiration and perseverance.

“The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.” ~ Julia Alvarez

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