Many non-traditional students have a difficult time adapting to college life and some never make it to the finish line, but one New Mexico student used a challenging situation as her motivation to graduate.
Jessica Lucero, a 28-year-old liberal arts major, said she didn’t start her college career until an age when many people are finishing theirs. As a result, it was all very new to her.
Stephen Becerra, Lucero’s stepfather and mentor, joked that she was the “little viejita — the old lady — of the class.”
One of her first jobs was working at The Becerra Group LLC, Becerra’s accounting business. He said she was so bright and learned everything so quickly.
Becerra said he hoped she picked up the importance of having a strong work ethic and the passion to go to work every day and treat the business as if it were her own.
Lucero said she learned a lot and was even doing some of the bookkeeping at a young age, but accounting wasn’t what she set her eyes on.
She started working at Beall and Biehler, a local law firm, and knew right away the field was for her. She said her boss told her he would normally never tell anyone to go to law school, but noticed the ambition in his employee and encouraged her to do so.
Things were going well before Lucero received news that the company was downsizing and she was let go. She found out she was pregnant the following day and realized she could use the opportunity to go back to school and enrolled at CNM to begin her college career.
She said one of her instructors told her she didn’t expect to see the mother-to-be back as Lucero approached her delivery date, but that wasn’t the case. Lucero gave birth to her daughter, Amia, on a Thursday, and was in the classroom the next Tuesday.
Becerra said, even though he knew it would be tough for her to go back to school after the pregnancy, it came as no surprise to him.
“When she tries something, she is very dedicated and committed — she’s going to see it through,” he said.
Patrick Torres, Amia’s father, said Lucero going back to school so quickly after having the baby was amazing, but she is strong-minded and had a good support system.
“I’m proud of her,” he said “I’m glad she didn’t give up and she kept pursuing it.”
Torres said she is a big inspiration to Amia and pushes hard to do better for both of them. Lucero said raising her daughter through education has been one of the many positives along the way.
She said her daughter has been her motivation from day one, and there is an inextricable link between her and the desire to earn a degree.
She said she remembered doing homework with Amia on her lap and still reads her textbooks aloud to her daughter today — which probably isn’t too exciting for most children to hear — but they still find time to have fun as well.
Lucero said she enjoys baking and decorating cookies; it is her quiet zone and her time to be creative. Another activity the two enjoy doing together is singing. Lucero said her daughter sings pretty much from the moment she wakes up until she goes to bed, and they sometimes perform for the family.
Becerra said he knows his step-daughter can sing — just don’t ask her to dance. He said when Lucero was younger, she did a pirouette and ran right into the corner of the wall.
She didn’t hit a wall when it came to the classroom, though. Lucero made progress, earned an associate’s degree and transferred to UNM in 2014.
The road wasn’t always easy; Torres joined the military and left for basic training recently. Lucero said Torres has always helped out a lot and it was difficult during the months he was gone, but she was able to rely on family to help fill the void.
Lucero said she has an “army of support” as her mother and father both re-married. Becerra said they all live in Albuquerque and get along well, providing four sets of hands to help out when needed.
Becerra said he applauds both Torres and his daughter for their parenting skills. Torres’ discipline in serving his country and Lucero’s hard work and dedication pursuing a degree are great values for his granddaughter to see at a young age.
Lucero said the one thing she would want people to know about her is that she never gives up — and she didn’t.
Becerra said he knew she felt overwhelmed with the pressure of homework assignments, preparing for finals, making graduation plans and the holidays. Although he’s been impressed with the way she has balanced work, school and personal life, he could see it was taking a toll on her.
“I told her, ‘You know what, mijita? You can do this. If I give you an elephant, you’ve got to eat it piece by piece — sit back and look at what is in front of you,’” Becerra said. “She’s eaten three-quarters of that elephant already.”
Come graduation, she’ll have finished eating that elephant.
Lucero said her family is “over the moon” with excitement, but it is also huge for her as it will be the first time she will experience walking the line in a graduation.
She said she feels relief when she hears the chatter about registration and it is nice to have a break from it all, even if it is just a temporary one.
The senior hopes to use the time to enroll her daughter in preschool while she waits to be accepted into law school.
Both Torres and Becerra said they expect to see Lucero making an impact by eliciting change. She is mindful of societal and community issues and is likely to pursue a career in politics, before eventually becoming an attorney.
Lucero said she never thought she would teach, but hopes she can do something to help other non-traditional students in the future as well.
She acknowledged that everyone has different circumstances, and some may not have the same support system she did, but the message is the same.
“You can really do anything. There may be obstacles, but if you have the ambition, the persistence and the determination... nothing is impossible,” Lucero said.
She said it was important for her to realize that, even if it would’ve taken her much longer without the help, everything she needed to succeed was inside of her — just don’t give up.
“Giving up is too easy.”
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.