by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce

(KPIX 5) — This year’s Students Rising Above seniors’ next goal is in sight – becoming the first in their families to graduate from college.

Jacqueline Rojas Cortez, who loves science and philosophy, will be off to UC Berkeley this fall. When we met her in January, she said what she wanted from 2017 is to reassure herself that she has what it takes to succeed. “I want to stop going back to the ‘what if I’m not good enough?’” said the honor roll student.

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Joining Jacqueline at Cal is school leader and dancer, Amber Lee. Amber’s course was forever changed when she had the realization that she wanted to do more with her life than what she had experienced in her past.

Also at Cal, will be national urban debate champion, Christine Harris. There was a point for Christine where she recalled associating with the wrong crowd. She considered leaving school and joining the Navy. Now, she is focused on being the first in her family to graduate from college and on becoming an attorney.

Elexis Webster chose UC San Diego. For her, going to college makes up for a haunting childhood of homelessness and abuse.

Elexis says she’s still in disbelief. “It’s kind of surreal, it’s like what’s really happening,” she said. “Every now and then I’m really thinking about it, this is really unbelievable, I’m actually coming from where I came from going to college, from being homeless to college – that’s kind of hard to believe.”

Because Alejandra Pulido wants a career in social work, she’s headed to Chico State. She was headed down a different path at the beginning of high school, but said she got on the “road to success” after joining a college prep program.

“At some point I sat down and started crying. It’s real,” said Alejandra. “And I just never thought I’d go to school.”

Destini Rodriguez will follow her dream to become a teacher at Sonoma State. She says she wants to guide other students and support them in the way that her own teachers supported her.

Abel Regalado is postponing his dream of attending a four-year university. Instead of attending school in Southern California, the computer science student decided to enroll in community college close to home so he can support his family.

“I would’ve gotten great experience from great programs at these amazing schools but I would’ve failed my family and my mom and my sister,” Abel said.

UCLA is the destination for Darius Aikens. After losing a parent at a young age, Darius persevered. His current position as a student director on the board of the Oakland Unified School District is just a warm-up. Someday, he wants to become mayor of Oakland.

And homesickness may not be a problem for Jevontae Paul, who’s off to San Diego State. Jevontae was enthusiastic about his future. He said, “As soon as I stepped on the campus, it felt like home. Oh this is where I belong. This is where I need to be.” Jevontae says he hopes to help break barriers, by adding more diversity to college campuses.



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