Graduation 2018: Hernandez to walk across graduation stage for 'entire family' as first generation to complete college degree

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In honor of the December commencement ceremony, follow the Graduation Stories Series to read about some of the experiences of the December 2018 graduates. Family and friends are invited to join in the celebration at commencement on Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. in Allen Arena.  

Graduation Series: Jocelyn Hernandez first in family to graduate from college

On Dec. 15, 2018, Jocelyn Hernandez will reach a special milestone. Hernandez, a psychology major, will become the first person in her family to obtain a college degree.

However, Hernandez says she won't be walking across the stage only for herself. This degree is her family’s degree, too.

Hernandez’s grandparents immigrated to America from El Salvador she says "to provide better opportunities for their children and their future grandchildren." Her grandmother completed the American equivalent of middle school, and she said her mother "barely" finished high school.

Because no one else in her family has gone to college, Hernandez says she always felt the high expectations from her family to go to college and to accomplish more academically than her family was able to accomplish.

While attending Cane Ridge High School in Antioch, Tennessee, Hernandez says she toured several colleges in the state, but none of them felt like the right decision until she set foot on Lipscomb’s campus.

“Everyone was so nice and welcoming when I toured Lipscomb,” recalls Hernandez. "The professors and tour guides were so kind. I felt like I would get a better education here than the other schools we looked at as well. Then I got a full ride to Lipscomb so it just made sense to go here.”

Even though the decision to attend Lipscomb was an easy one, her first year of college was not. Without college graduates in her immediate family, Hernandez did not know who to ask for help.

“I couldn’t go to my parents to ask for advice, since they did not go to college,” says Hernandez. “I had to wing it. I didn’t know how to register for classes or anything like that.”

Hernandez found, however, that once she opened up and asked for help, her Lipscomb professors were very helpful and understanding.

“I was scared to ask for help at first because I felt so dumb,” she says. “I saw all of these other people who knew what they were doing or who could call up someone in their family to ask for help, but I didn’t have that. I was just drowning. I learned to ask more questions and to ask for help.”

During her sophomore year, Hernandez got involved with the Office of Intercultural Development and says working there was a huge part of finding a home here. Hernandez's grandmother shared her story of immigrating from El Salvador once during the OID's Multicultural Awareness Skills and Knowledge chapel, and she says she was honored to serve as a translator for her.

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“My grandmother said, ‘To be able to see our work in you and the place you are studying was such an honor.’ In just three generations, my family transformed from my grandma working at a farm and having to drop out of school to me going to a university and now graduating college was so powerful,” says Hernandez.

Hernandez credits the Lipscomb Career Development Center with teaching her how to write a cover letter and resume, and with providing her the knowledge and confidence to interview well with potential employers. She relied on this assistance, she says, because her family always had "labor jobs" and no first-hand knowledge of the professional world.

The combination of the assistance she received in the career development center and her internship at AGAPE Adoption and Counseling Center, Hernandez has already accepted a job at Centerstone, a nonprofit mental health care organization, as the care coordinator.

Although she has worked hard for her degree and for her job at Centerstone, Hernandez says these accomplishments aren’t just because of all of her hard work.

"My degree isn’t just my degree. It’s my family’s degree," says Hernandez. "It means our degree. It’s my grandma’s degree, it’s my grandpa’s degree. I wish that when I walk the stage to get my diploma that they could walk with me. It’s not just my hard work that earned this degree and my job at Centerstone, it’s their hard work too. My grandma was really proud that I am graduating college, and she was even more excited when I told her I accepted a job." 

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