The return of the first generation leads to several diplomas and awards
By RUDY COGGINS
Jesus Quiroz sat down at the table and took a deep breath. A morning under pressure has come to an end.
A light tap on the shoulder interrupted his lunch.
“Were you at graduation today?” asked the woman.
Quiroz said “yes”.
“Were you the guest speaker? she asked.
Quiroz said “yes”.
In his commencement speech, Quiroz opened up about his struggles — mental and emotional — completing his education at Wayne Community College.
The mother, whose son was in the same class, said she had similar issues and shared her experiences with Quiroz. The two talked for a few minutes, then the mother walked away.
Quiroz sat quietly.
Once quiet about his situation, he realized that exposing his vulnerability allowed people to open up.
“Everyone has their story,” Quiroz said. “There are all these situations that happen. It is not always a straight path. The people I mentioned in the speech were classmates who overcame hardships. It takes courage and determination when you feel like all the cards are stacked against you.
A Governor’s School nominee and honorary scholar, Quiroz graduated from Wayne Engineering School and headed to UNC Wilmington in 2018.
A first-generation student in his family, he had trouble concentrating in class.
He worried about the family finances.
His father almost died.
And, he had just gotten out of a three-year relationship.
Quiroz felt overwhelmed – and lost.
“I didn’t have a meal plan or money to buy books,” he said. “I had a friend who lent me ‘guest shots’ on his meal card. I asked classmates or my instructors if they could lend me a book, but I was too embarrassed to tell them my situation. It made me not want to go to school.
The Mount Olive native hid his problems, but couldn’t find solutions.
At the end of his freshman year, Quiroz was academically discharged from UNCW.
He took the next 12 months.
In the spring of 2019, Quiroz completed his prerequisites at Wayne Community College. He took courses in turf management to help with his father’s landscaping business. He helped his father get a pesticide license.
He immersed himself in tutoring his classmates at the Academic Skills Center. He shared his knowledge in anatomy and physiology, Spanish, biology and psychology. He followed a local dentist at Riccobene and Associates for over 500 hours.
Quiroz slowly began to open up.
Once he explained his experience at UNCW to school counselors and instructors, they welcomed him with open arms instead of judging him.
“It was like ‘we understand,'” Quiroz said. “It opened my eyes because it felt like it was me against the world, but it’s really us against ourselves. We believe the world is against us when we don’t have not known the world because we protect ourselves.
Still embarrassed and ashamed, Quiroz decided to network and start a support group for himself. He gained confidence thanks to their motivation, support and advice.
Doors suddenly opened.
An instructor helped Quiroz get a scholarship from the Wayne Foundation.
From there, he became the student he intended to become when he entered the UNCW campus. Quiroz earned an Associate of Arts degree, an Associate of Science degree, and a dental assisting certificate. He recently passed the national exam and hopes to continue his career in East Carolina.
WCC faculty presented Quiroz with the prestigious Dallas Herring Achievement Award, which recognizes a current or former student who embodies Herring’s philosophy of “getting people where they are and taking them as far as they can go.”
He also received the Associate of Science Student of the Year award.
Surprised and humbled by the recognition, Quiroz had no intention of “walking” to graduation. He wanted to receive his diploma by mail, but then learned that he would be giving the commencement address.
“It was an honor to be chosen,” Quiroz said. “Not only had I been validated with awards and with my instructors, but I felt like the whole school was saying ‘we’ve got your back, we’ve got your back’. It was very reassuring.
“There is an incredible community of instructors in Wayne. Everything I have been able to do is thanks to them. I literally sat down almost every week with one of my instructors and had honest conversations. I think a lot of things the students are missing is that these instructors aren’t there to give a lecture and grade your homework, if you just walk in and talk to them, if you give them a thumbs up they’ll give you a lot of miles back, a whole ocean back.
And the possibility of realizing your dream.