“Just because you may not be fluent in English does not mean you can’t continue your education.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Jessica Valencia says she first heard about the social work program at St. Augustine College (SAC) on a Spanish radio station in Chicago. She says the fact that SAC offered bilingual education made all the difference not only for her, but for her mother—who also enrolled at the college. “My mom had difficulties with the language barriers. It helped her a lot knowing she was able to study with someone that spoke her language,” explains Valencia. “Just because you may not be fluent in English does not mean you can’t continue your education.” As a result, her mother earned an associate degree in early childhood education and Valencia—herself a mother of three children ranging in age from 4 to 15—graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree. “For me, it was very important to show my children that even though it was extremely difficult to go to school while working full-time and taking care of them and doing an internship—that even though all those obstacles, it was not impossible.” With her eye on a career in social work, Valencia is now embarking on a master’s program and says she looks forward to helping people in her community. While she was proud to be named valedictorian of her department, Valencia says she was even more proud that she accomplished what she set out to do and what it means for her family. “Through all those challenges, I proved that it can be done. My family was very supportive and that helped a lot–along with the manager at the company where I worked while attending classes, she was able to be flexible with my schedule. Otherwise, it would have been ten times more difficult,” she adds. “But it was the teachers and classmates at St. Augustine that got me to the finish line. It taught me that even if it means you need to stay in school longer than you planned, you should never, ever give up.”