When a former first grade student invites you to their college graduation, one’s heart bursts so wide open, one laughs and cries from the overwhelming feeling of pride and elation. In the year 2000 a curious, responsible and steadfast little girl named *Jen Hen, was in my 1/2 bilingual-combination class. Jen Hen was a first grader and from the moment she walked in, school uniform on, her pencils sharpened, mind alert and ready to learn, I fell in love. She was in a transitional bilingual (English/Spanish) program receiving 90 percent of academic instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English. She quickly stood out from the rest because she was a focused student. When she didn’t understand something, Jen Hen would raise her hand and ask, “Maestra, no entiendo. Me lo puede explicar otra vez por favor. / Teacher, I don’t understand. Would you please explain it to me again please.” Nora Roberts, so wisely said, “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”
Over the years, I have had the privilege of watching this little girl blossom into a bright, kind, driven and wonderful young woman. I even became her nina, when she asked me to become her First Communion Godmother. I have been watching and praying that she make higher and correct choices and today, as they said her name at the 2015 UC Merced Commencement Ceremony, I quietly cried behind my sunglasses. I looped with her first grade class so I could spend more time with her, also becoming her second grade teacher. Even back then I knew she had that “it” factor. Today, her mother shared that she still has the letter I wrote to Jen Hen back in the first grade, saying that I knew she would one day graduate from college and to please invite me. And she did.
My beautiful Jen Hen is the result of all the good things that come into play when one’s parents support and nurture a child’s education, when dedicated teachers and schools (Go Felton School!) provide quality instruction and when an individual makes the decision to move beyond the stereotype of what is expected, figures it out, perseveres and has grit to make her dreams come true.
Jen Hen will start her graduate studies this fall at the University of Southern California, while her beautiful big sister graduates with a Masters degree from the University of San Francisco next week. So proud of you both!
Whether this is just the beginning of your educational journey or the end – never stop learning, dreaming and moving forward.
Congratulations to the class of 2015!
*Jen Hen is her nickname