Valedictorian: How Perseverance and Mentoring Have Guided Me

The following are excerpts from essays written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

My family has a history of overcoming struggles. My grandfather began working in the fields at the tender age of four. My father started working at the age of six. My mother never completed any education beyond 6th grade due to the family’s financial difficulties.

I have had to overcome difficulties since the day I was born. Surrounded by sugarcane and wild rabbits that run the fields in the small rural town of Belle Glade, I was a premature baby, with unhealthy weight and lack of interest in eating. Although my mother tried her best to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy, due to extreme financial distress, she often went without nutritious food.

When I was two months old, I contracted viral meningitis due to weak health and poor environmental surroundings. When I was two years of age, once again, I was rushed to the hospital for surgery from an appendicitis. I later suffered from dehydration right after the surgery. I had extended hospital stays since birth throughout my childhood. The medical bills would often begin to accumulate one after another, and my parents often had difficulty keeping up with them. At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with ADHD and Myopia after years of struggling to do well in school and being inflicted with chronic headaches. I had to be placed in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program for the rest of my elementary years because the effect of meningitis in my brain had caused me to have a learning disability.

The lack of financial stability in my family is directly linked to my family members being unable to attain an education beyond the 6th grade. This fact, in turn, has created a generational chain of inability to achieve an education and consequently, poor health.

One of the differences that has turned me into a strong leader is the strong parents that I have. Both wanted me to have a better chance in life and crossed to a foreign nation in the pursuit of that better life. They wanted me to have what they did not have. They continually remind me never to let my opportunities to learn go to waste. Unlike my parents, I can attend high school and finish college thanks to Take Stock in Children. They have talked to me throughout my high school life to work hard in school so that I don’t have to go through what my parents went through.

During high school, I have participated in over ten extracurricular activities and have strived for excellence in academics. I am President of the Pros and Consequences of Life Club which serves to promote awareness of HIV, STDs and academic focus. I am also President of the Spanish Book Club which drives students to success in their foreign language courses and fundraisers to provide the homeless with dental supplies. I am a mentor with the ESOL Mentoring program in which students are pushed to overcome the stresses and anxieties of learning a foreign language, which I have experienced myself.

My goal in five years is to practice primary family medicine in rural areas in Palm Beach County like Belle Glade. My first step is by finishing my undergraduate degree at Florida State University.

I would like to return twice a month to Glades Central High School to support organizations such as the ESOL Mentoring Program and the Women of Tomorrow to continue empowering women. It would also be my greatest desire to help students with whom I share the struggle and anxiety of learning a second language. I would continue to mentor students from the ESOL mentoring program and to establish an organization that mentors students with the lowest grades at Glades Central High School and with learning disabilities. Being able to help establish this organization would be meaningful to me because I have a learning disability and understand the discipline it takes to control such a disability. My third goal would be to support Take Stock in Children as a volunteer throughout my three years of medical school.

Through the growth I have gained from hardships I have encountered and the mentoring support received from TSIC, I will graduate with my AA degree from Palm Beach State College by high school graduation. I will be graduating high school as valedictorian.

My parents may not have received education more than the 6th grade, but they taught me to live with integrity and honesty. My goal is to continue to serve my community, to become the best person I can be, determined to meet my goals and to serve.

Gema Cervantes is a senior at Glades Central High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

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