Richmond Student Soars Past Broken Home, Poverty Toward Ivy League Dream

by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — It’s not surprising Jacqueline Rojas Cortez loves science and philosophy so much.  She considers herself naturally curious. She’s always asking questions, searching for answers.

“What I want from 2017 is to reassure myself that I have what it takes to succeed,” she said. “I want to stop going back to the ‘what if I’m not good enough?’”

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Jacqueline, with a 4.5 GPA at Richmond High, has set the bar high. Her dream college is Vanderbilt and after that, she plans to attend med school.

As well as she manages her academic life, her home life has been much more unpredictable. She admits she’s had dark days – or rather, years. It started in 6th grade, when her dad packed his bags and left.

“He said ‘Happy Birthday, I love you’ and he kissed me on the forehead and that was pretty much what he said,” Jacqueline recalled. “I was really close to my dad, it was just really hard the years after he left, I felt bad because at school, friends at school had their dads and I didn’t.”

Without his financial support, Jacqueline and her family lost their home. She and her siblings went to live with a relative while their mother was in the hospital due to complications with her pregnancy.

Immediately after her recovery, Jacqueline’s mother had to go straight to work. But having never had a job before, it was difficult to find a position that offered a decent paycheck.

“The best job she could find was working at a motel. She’d earn $20 a day.” Jacqueline remembered, “She wanted to provide us with everything that we needed and to this point she has. But there have been moments where we’ve been short a lot of things and that’s when people in the family have helped.”

While family members were helping out at home, her teachers stepped in, keeping her on track in class.

“They saw potential in me that I never saw in myself,” Jacqueline said.

“She’s just a phenomenal young person,” said her mentor, Shasa Curl. “I know she’s going to be successful, but I know it’s not easy for her. I think she should be commended for all the obstacles she’s overcome and the fact that she does it with grace everyday.”

Last summer, Jacqueline was accepted to the Ivy League Connection program at Vanderbilt. Scared at first, she questioned if she would fit in or was smart enough compared to the students from private and boarding schools. She discovered the answer – within herself.

“I composed myself and took advantage of the time I had there,” she said. “I started looking at the positive things…asking my instructors questions, shadowing doctors, going to the operating room, realizing that medicine is the path I’d like to take.”

This wasn’t her only realization, however. Jacqueline now believes she has a better understanding of how to best handle high stress situations. She has gained confidence in her ability to not carry her past with her or allow it to affect her future actions.

Looking at 2017, Jacqueline said she is determined “to change even more than I already have.”

With a clear goal in mind, Jacqueline is hopeful for the future and looks forward to getting another step closer to her achieving her dreams.

 

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