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Class of 2017

Our first graduating VAGAS WITH DEGREES Class of 2017.

Below are the stories of 21 beautiful women of color whom graduated and earned their Doctoral, Masters, Bachelors and Associate degrees in 2017. Her Vaga Bound Roots is forever thankful and incredibly grateful to have had the pleasure to be the platform to feature their unique and inspiring stories.

Daisy Bonilla

Master of Social Work

New York University, Silver School of Social Work

 

"My name is Daisy Bonilla and as a former advocate supporting victims of child abuse, I have witnessed the damage the child welfare system can have on families across all socioeconomic levels. As a forensic interviewer, I have heard the stories of brave children who have suffered and been victims of abuse. I have seen the devastating effects of rape culture and the dire need for change in our sexual assault policies. Having just obtained my Masters in Social Work at NYU Silver School of Social Work which a specialization in public policy, I intend to combine my expertise in human behavior, social welfare policy, and desire for social justice to improve the systems that affect our most vulnerable communities. 

 

I recently had the opportunity to be a graduate fellow in the Office of the Chancellor in the New York City Department of Education (DOE). In my internship at the DOE, I acquired a broader perspective and greater understanding of what other direct services our communities need. History shows incredible strides for marginalized populations, and this complex journey toward social justice is what inspires me to believe that big change is possible. I am thrilled to turn my passions into a career, and become an agent of change. I am driven by an earnest passion to ensure that vulnerable communities have abundant supports and opportunities to learn and develop, regardless of their background, experiences, and means. I'm not afraid to dream big and hope that in the near future I can embark in a position within the public sector where I can advocate for social welfare policy reform and help change the structures that govern our population’s well being." 

Jocelyn Janelle

Master of Science in Social Work

Human Services Management certificate 

Columbia University School of Social Work

"I'm originally a California native but moved to the east coast after visiting NYC in 2013. I fell in love with the diversity, hustle & bustle and new I wanted to return soon. 1 month after graduating undergrad, I moved to the city with one suitcase in hand. I worked as a teacher's assistant in the South Bronx with 8th graders. During my time as a TA, I saw many issues in the education system and low-income communities that were comparable to my experience growing up. Issues of education inequality, poverty, the prison to school pipeline, and many more. I wanted to study these issues more in depth and be qualified to address not only the mental health aspects but the larger systems of administration and policy that effect low income communities and communities of color. I enrolled in Social Work school uncertain of what I was going to learn but walked away with both the academic and personal tools to be an advocate in my community and workplace for social justice. My future goals post grad are to take a break before beginning this much needed work. I'll be traveling around Mexico and then returning to the states to work with court involved youth in the education system, with one day hopes of running my own social enterprise employing formerly incarcerated individuals."

Danay Sade Rojas-Iniguez

Juris Doctor Degree

Chapman University, Dale E. School of Law

 

"Earning my law school degree was not easy, but deciding to go through Law School was the easiest decision I've made. 

 

I grew up in Lamont, California, a small rural  town with a large immigrant population.

Growing up, I learned early on about the struggles of the people of my community. I witnessed people not able to communicate to law enforcement, doctors, and lawyers as they only knew Spanish. I witnessed people living hidden lives in fear of deportation, and I also witnessed the people of my community being stereotyped as job takers and welfare dependents. 

 

What was most difficult to see was the people of my community afraid to obtain help from the law because of this fear of deportation or due to communication or cultural barriers. This is where I hope to come in. Now equipped with a law degree, I plan to go back to my community and help those who do not have the courage or the resources to have a fair shot. I will soon be working for a personal injury firm that helps Spanish speaking and low resource members of my community." 

Amina Choudhery

Master of Social Work

New York University, Silver School of Social Work

 

"I never thought I’d actually grow up and get an MSW or a masters at all for that matter, I always had the desire and want for a higher education but I lacked the confidence in myself. Growing up in a joint family is hard, growing up in a joint family with sexist views is even harder. My grandparents immigrated from Pakistan to the U.S. in order to give their children, my father, uncles, and aunt a better life but with them they brought their backward views on what women should be like. From birth I was confined in a box befitting what many in my family, mostly men and my grandmother, thought was the perfect female. This never sat well with me and I aspired to be more than just a wife and mother with great cooking talents, my mother wanted the same for all her daughters. For as long as I can remember I’ve bent the rules and broken the mold, at least in my family. I’ve always wanted to help people and a social worker was exactly what I needed to be.

NYU was always a dream of mine and being able to do what I love made it that much better. Throughout my life I ‘ve worked really hard to get to where I am but I couldn’t have done it without my biggest inspiration, my mother. She has always worked so hard and been so selfless in her love and care for others, she has motivated and supported me throughout my life and obtaining a masters from NYU would not have been possible without her. She helped me become a strong, confident, and independent woman and her story plays a huge part in inspiring me to achieve my dreams!"

Alma M. Partida

Master’s in Speech/Language Pathology

San Jose State University

 

"People ask me how I feel being a graduate but to be honest I haven't gotten over the trauma of even getting accepted to a graduate program with like a 10% acceptance rate lol. 

I moved to San Jose with no job, no car and found roommates on Craigslist. I think I had like $500 in my bank account (which was pretty much my first months rent). But somehow with a loooot of hard work (and a pinch of luck) everything worked out in my favor. Here I am, years later receiving a master's degree at 24 yrs old, something only 4% of Latinas complete. 

I'm not here to brag or boast but I do hope to encourage you to push yourselves. There were hundreds of obstacles along the way (no social life, lack of sleep, working while in grad school, never seeing my parents) 

BUTTT I did it. And you can, too! The hard part is simply just starting. Once you get comfortable with sacrifice, you realize that the end product is so much sweeter. And when I say "end product" I'm not talking about the degree, or the prize at the end. I'm talking about the gutsy, grown, and excelled person you became. That is irreplaceable, worth every penny, and makes all of the sacrifices insignificant. "All of the noise, all of the glamour, all of the rings, all of the money, these are things that linger in the memory. But the spirit, the will to excel, the will to win, these are the things that endure." #FromTheHoodWithAHood

#Latina #LatinaGrads #MexicansWithMasters #ImmigrantSuccessStory #AmbitionFlowInsideMyDNA 

#NeverStopLearning

Jocelyn Hernandez

Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Education

University of California, Los Angeles 

 

"I am a first-generation, brown, Guatemalan/American female graduate from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology and Education. 

 

Throughout these college years, I've became stronger, my voice has got a lot louder, and I became the chingona that I once knew at a younger age. For some of us this is just a piece of paper, but for us VAGAS, this is more than that, these are chains being broken. 

 

I pursued both of my degrees, because I simply wanted to become educated. I believed having a strong background in human culture, human behavior and patterns, all while applying critical thinking and research skills could get me far in life. I picked up a second study, because the social justice warrior in me always believed every child is deserving of quality education - even someone like me, who came from a community where most don't graduate HS. 

Although I am not an Anthropologist or in the education field, I have been able to land a dream job. By obtaining my degree from one of the top public schools in the United States, I have been given countless opportunities and a form of social and economic capital that I can pass on to my younger sister and my future children. 

My dream would be to own a business where I can implement my love for writing, music, and fashion in one. Vagas never stop learning, we never stop reaching, and most importantly, we never stop being BADASSES!" 

Cristina Bermudez

US NAVY & USC Graduate Student

"Soy Mujer

Soy Latina

Soy Veterana Militar

Soy Hija de immigrantes

   

I am a Woman

I am a Latina

I am a U.S. Navy Veteran

I am the daughter of immigrants

 

We are living in times where many of the facts listed above about myself, can be interpreted as all odds against me. Throughout history one or all of those odds have existed and will continue to exist, unfortunately. I made the choice to change the views, statistics, and/or stigmas about all of those circumstances and make them positive ones. I am a resilient and strong woman like my Mother, my Grandmother, Aunts, and other inspiring women that have paved the way for me to accomplish all that I have and will continue to strive for. I did things in a non-traditional way, perhaps somewhat backwards. I joined the military, served for 12 honorable years, then decided to pursue higher education. I wouldn't have it any other way! Extremely proud to be where I am today. Proud to be a Latina, Veteran Woman, and a college graduate. To hear my family say that they are proud of me and that I have accomplished far more than they ever dreamed of has made this entire journey worth it! Next month I start my Master's program at USC and you better believe, Dr. Cristina in the near future after that! Thank you God for the constant blessings! Never have I, nor will I take any of it for granted! Si Se puede!"

Stephanie Davis

Master of Social Work

California State University Northridge 

 

"My community is what motivated me to pursue a degree in social work. I have seen the oppression experienced in marginalized communities and want to make a difference in a city I grew up in. With this degree I hope to continue work in the mental health field and advocate for social justice. I would like to work with at risk youth in the San Fernando Valley and work towards a more inclusive community that recognizes the specialized needs of its members." 

Vanelly Flores

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology

Cal State University, Los Angeles

"I'm graduating with my Bachelors of Sociology and this degree isn't only for me but it's for my sisters. I want them to see that you can do anything you can dream and they can do so much more than I ever have because I've paved the way. Most importantly I did this for the person most influential in my life, my mom.  My mom had me at the age of 16 and let me tell you we have gone through a lot. We have conquered several struggles and through it all she has taught me to never give up. It was the two of us against the world and even today when I am with her I feel like we are unstoppable. I'm always amazed, because here I am barely dealing with myself and when she was my age, my mom had established a life not only for herself, but for me as well. She always did everything in her power to give me the best. How could I ever repay her? I don't think I'll ever be able to, but this degree is one step closer to achieving that goal. She reassures me everyday that there's nothing I can't accomplish. It's been a long time coming working full time and taking up to six classes a semester. It was tough! But I did it, sometimes with tears in my eyes, but I pushed through. I want to encourage everyone else to do so as well. Our parents go through so much to give us a better life, we can't let that opportunity go to waste. Both of my parents are immigrants and my dad has told me so many times that we are so lucky to have all of these resources at our disposal, it would be ridiculous if we didn't take advantage of it. He says, "Ponte las pilas, si no vas a andar limpiando baños toda tu vida, eso es lo que quieres?" I don't. I have done my fair share of cleaning after someone else, and I would love nothing better than to be able to support both of my parents financially and have them not clean another restroom again. Next on my list is getting into Law School. Being an attorney has always been one of my life long goals and within the next year I plan on taking the LSAT to apply. We need more Latinas in the field, and I plan on being one bad-ass attorney!"

Monica Robles

A.A Health Sciences, A.A Natural and Behavioral Sciences, A.A General Studies

"Growing up in the SFV of California was pretty rough for me. Throughout my childhood I had a parent who was an addict; putting my family through some very hard times. For these reasons, I had to become independent, and street smart a very young age. In addition to my childhood, I also survived an abusive relationship in which I became a single mom of two daughters by the age of 22. Therefore I had of sacrifice a lot of  myself, and my goals. So going to school to continue my education was not an option for me at that time. Eventually my daughters got to an age where I was able to start pursuing the goals that I had put on hold. As a result, I was able to earn three Associate degrees at the age of 38. I was asked, “what inspires me?” Succeeding, and not letting my circumstances make me a statistic is what keeps me thriving. Not to mention that it is very important to me that my daughters see, not just a mom, but an educated women. So by all means, my Associate degrees are just the beginning of more degrees to come."

Jasmine Esparza

Bachelors in Psychology and Minor in Child and Adolescent Development

California State University, Northridge

 

My name is Jasmine Esparza and I am graduating from California State University, Northridge. I will be receiving my BA in Psychology and minor in Child and Adolescent Development. As a child, school has always been my passion and I knew that I wanted to go as far as God would allow me to go. Pursuing a psychology degree made me more aware of the importance of mental health and I became so fascinated with the brain. I added a minor in Child and Adolescent Development because I've always had a genuine love for working with children. I always hope to make a difference in their lives because they are our future generation! I plan to continue school and become a doctor. My dream career would be to help my community and be there for those who are in their worst of times and their best of times. I plan to go beyond for my patients and show them the love that God has shown me. I hope to encourage those to follow their dreams whether they come from a low income family, parents who were immigrants, first generation college student, etc. like I was because anything is possible through Christ! #sisepuede"

Carolyn Almonte

Master of Social Work

New York University, Silver School of Social Work

"Like most immigrants, my parents came to this country for a better life. But for immigrants and people of color in the U.S., it's hardly better than what was left behind. My parents worked their asses off, more than anyone I know. They came from nothing, literally had nothing, yet never showed me or my sister how much they struggled. Getting through school and seeking higher education was as much of an achievement for them, as it was for me. It shows that all they've sacrificed was worth it. My mom’s fiery passion and my dads heart of gold made me who I am today - it was destined that I become a social worker." 

Monique Mundle

Master of Social Work

New York University, Silver School of Social Work

 

"I came from England to pursue my masters degree at NYU two years ago. When I announced the move, some people thought I was brave, others tried to convince me not to go, but I just knew it was the right step for me at that phase of my life.

New York has been everything I thought it would be, yet everything else I hadn't yet imagined! The diversity here makes life so rich, and as a clinician I've been able to work with an eclectic mix of clients from all different walks of life.

I've learned so much about myself and grown in both my professional and personal life. But the friends I've made along the way are truly priceless additions to this journey.

Someone asked me recently what my profession (social work) means to me. My answer was this:

"To me, social work means listening and hearing more than just the silence, speaking up when nobody wants to say a word, and seeing in others what they fail to see in themselves."

... I really hope that I can stay true to that as my journey continues."

Carolina Mandujano

Masters in Counseling Education

San Jose State University 

"Ever since I can remember I've come to realize how hard life is and not only for me but also for those people around me. I was born and raised in Santiaguillo, Guanajuato Mexico at 11 years old my parents decided to leave everything behind for a better future. Through out my struggles from learning English, being the first one in my family to attend a four-year University being an AB540 student (undocumented student) for the first two years. I can finally say that because I remained as a resilient Mexicana. I have managed to be the first one in my family to earn a Masters Degree in Counseling Education. I remain motivated thanks to my family! Now that better future my parents wanted for me is waiting. Remember we do not get to decide how or when we are going to die. But we do get to decide how we get to live. Con ganas! Si se pudo!"

Soraya Loera

A.A in Social and Behavioral Sciences & A.A Natural Sciences

Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles

 

"Reminiscing on my 1st grade project, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered, "I want to be a nurse because I am good at putting BandAids."

Funny how six year old me set my life-long dream that day. It hasn't been as easy as patching on bandaids but after all the roads and it's challenges it presented along the way, I can't be anymore excited to accomplish this first (of many) milestone. I thought I had to have all my degrees lined up before I turned 25 years old but like my grandma says, "todo a su tiempo". At 23 years old I'm feeling blessed to have accomplished my first college degree(s) yet. 

My mom has been a great inspiration and a huge influence in my life. A single mother, working two jobs, yet be present for every single one of my achievements and manage to still set goals and pursue them. She set the ultimate example of following dreams, even if it hurts or have the urge to give up, to truly persevere. I wouldn't have been able to achieve this without the support of my family. My success is their success. My achievements are their achievements. 

It may have taken me a little longer than I had planned but I'm more motivated than ever to start working towards my BSN. God willing, I'll have a career as a pediatric nurse.  I'm ready. I'm set! 

A seguir luchando y logrando"

Stephanie Jimenez Delgado (Puebla, Mexico)

Master of Social Work

New York University - Silver School of Social Work

 

"I'd like to start by thanking Wendoline for this amazing compliment of wanting to hear my story and seeing me as an inspirational Latina woman. My story is a long one but one that I am very proud to tell, not because I think I am better than anyone but because I hope to be someone people especially Latina women are able to see themselves in and can aspire to reach their goals as I did. To start I will go back in time to when I was a misguided teenager who cut school, was disrespectful, ran away from home, and authority figures would label me as defiant.

At the age of 15 I became the statistical pregnant Mexican teenager. Everyone from friends, teachers, guidance counselors, and even social workers told me I would drop out of school and not make it and my son would also be just like me and we would stay in Sunset Park, Brooklyn living off of public assistance and be another abusing the system. When hearing these things I thought of breaking many times, but I had a baby now that relied on me and the moment I heard my sons heartbeat and had my mothers support I was motivated more than ever to not be what "they" destined me to be.

At 16 I gave birth to my beautiful son Jayden who was healthier than ever and such a good baby. My mother was my biggest support and took off of work to care of my son his first 6 months before I met my social worker Rafaela who listened to my story. Rafaela was the first and only person to support and motivate me without judgment. She helped me get Jayden into the LYFE program where I received free childcare and was able to graduate high school at 18 years old with honors. Rafaela also helped me get into BMCC a community college (my choice) and she got Jayden into their childcare program. My Jayden started here at the age of 2 and stayed here until preschool at the age of 4. Together we graduated and Jayden went on to kindergarten and I went to the college of Staten Island to complete my 2 year BSW program.

This was the moment I decided to fulfill social work. I was so inspired by Rafaela and aspired to be like her to motivate young teen mothers to continue their education and never give up just because they're teen mom. I was determined to prove all of those that doubt me and shamed my mother for the early decision I made. I graduated from CSI's 2 year BSW program with cum Laude, Phi Alpha, and Honors and was accepted into NYU's advanced standing MSW program. Even in my BSW program I encountered some professors who said NYU was hard to get in and I should apply somewhere else because it's expensive and prestigious. Well here I am, 23 years old with a master’s degree in social work from NYU.

As you see in my picture I walked the stage with my 7 year old Jayden and now expecting our newest addition arriving October 2017, Jayden's sister. I couldn't be happier for all my accomplishments and I could not have done this without the motivation of my son Jayden and of course the support of my family. I believe that my son was brought to me at an early age with a purpose. A purpose I hope inspires you all as you hear my story. I hope to make my son and daughter proud and inspire them to fulfill all of their dreams. My work is not done here as I hope to be a Rafaela in the world but with my own story, inspiration, and dedication to all my clients I serve. I'd like to Thank you again for this honor Wendoline. As well as dedicated this diploma to my Son Jayden, I would not be here if it weren't for him and to my mother who immigrated here at the age of 17 so I could be born with papers and be somebody in this world. I hope I've made you proud and fulfilled your dreams as well."

Genesis Aguilar

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology

California State University, Northridge

"I finally graduated, it has been a long journey but I made it! I graduated from California State University, Northridge with my B.A. in Sociology. This is only the beginning and my motivation throughout this whole process has been my family as I am the first one to ever graduate with a degree. My family has always pushed me to succeed in life and taught me that nothing can stand in the way of someone who is determined. I fell in love with my major in sociology as I love to help others and it has definitely become an eye opening experience. My future goals are to be part of a Latino non-profit organization in hopes to help families in need and give a hand to help their voice be heard. I will go on to receive Master’s degree and continue to make my family proud and prove to myself that anything is possible."

Adriana Ruvalcaba

Master of Social Work

GSA President 2016-2017

New York University - Silver School of Social Work

"During my undergrad career at UCLA I felt not only ill prepared, but also outnumbered as a student of color, chicana, who had no idea what her presence on a campus of that magnitude meant. So much so that it took me many ups and downs to finally graduate, 5 years later. And even then I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So for 7 years I hopped around from working as an AmeriCorps fellow, to working with foster youth and in corporate America. Once I came across the agency Peace Over Violence in Downtown LA and saw the amazing work they were doing to fight domestic violence and sexual assault, especially as a DV survivor myself, I decided I wanted to be a part of it. After 2 years as a volunteer, I knew this was my calling and in order for me to get paid to do what I loved, I needed a masters degree. That is where my love and pursuit to become an MSW was born. NYU gave me a new city and new perspective and for that I am forever grateful. My dream is continue the fight against DV by incorporating violence prevention education within spaces that youth are a part of as to break the cycle before it starts."

Ana Patino

Bachelors of Science in Accounting

Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

"I never really thought I'd be in the position I am in today: graduated and employed by the firm I've dreamed of working at since I was 17 years old. I pursued an accounting degree knowing that it would require a lot of effort and sacrifice. I was right; the past four years were countless hours of studying, persistence, and a compromised social life. Accounting is not an easy degree to achieve to say the least but I wanted to make both my parents and myself proud. I wanted to show my parents that everything they gave up and all their struggles were well worth it. Additionally I wanted to inspire my younger sister. I dedicate my diploma to them. However, I also wanted to prove to myself that I am capable of what I put my mind to and that a daughter of immigrant parents is both deserving of and capable of success in every form of its definition. Choosing to go into the corporate sphere will be challenging not only because I am a female but because I am a LATINA female. Nonetheless I remain as motivated as ever thanks to my family, my roots, and my dreams. I hope to bring diversity to my career field as well as learn as much as I can along the way. This is only the beginning!"

Nia I. McFarland- Drye

Master of Social Work

New York University, Silver School of Social Work

 

"As I was studying psychology during my undergraduate career, I knew something was off. I took a social work class and realized what it was. There is so much focus on the mind, that the person as a whole and their environment, is completely forgotten. After that realization, I changed my major to social work.  I continued on to my masters because I did not feel ready to serve the population I was interested in.

 

I did not learn how to hone in on the skills I acquired during college and use them in my OWN way! After graduating from Silver, I don't think I know it all, however I feel READY! I love forensic social work and hope to work in this field with the criminal justice involved population! Someday, I also hope to create a mentorship/ psychoeducational program and group for young girls of Color!"

Sandra Marquez , LCSW

Master of Social Work

University Southern California 

"I am a First-Generation Latina from Santa Ana, CA and I strongly believe that Latina/os can go to college/universities and obtain a higher education degree. As a teenager, it never crossed my mind that I would one day go to a university and obtain my Master's Degree. Santa Ana is a beautiful and unique city and I believe that more Latina/os from Santa Ana can go to universities and make a positive difference in their communities and in society. As a junior in high school, I doubted my own abilities of getting into a 4-year university and negative statements like "I am not going to get in." were words that crossed my mind my senior year. What kept me going and what led me to keep trying was the love that I have for my community. I wanted to come back and work at one of the schools that I attended to motivate and inspire students that no matter how difficult things are in that moment; they will get better. I learned at a young age that the thoughts you put out into the universe matter and will manifest themselves later on in life. I was 17 at the time.

 

After graduating from high school, I attended the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and earned a double major in Psychology and Social Behavior and Criminology, Law, and Society. I attended school full-time, worked part-time, and volunteered at various non-profit organizations throughout my 4 years. After hearing about the Master of Social Work Program at USC, I knew that I wanted to attend the program and learn as much as I could to return to work in my community. At the age of 24, I graduated with my Master’s Degree and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was even happier when I was offered a position to work in a school-based mental health program in Santa Ana.

 

At the age of 28, I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I continue to serve my community. I have had the privilege of working with some of the most resilient students and the students that I work with inspire and motivate me to continue to be a strong and competent Social Worker. My hope is to continue to advocate for my students and to empower them to find their inner voice, to believe in themselves, and to inspire them to achieve their dreams. Someone once believed in me and I am continuing to do the same by believing in my students. Send your positive thoughts, positive energy, and positive vibes into the world because they WILL show up when the time is right. Always have hope and BELIEVE in YOURSELF!"

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