Mari Aguirre Rodriguez
Rosa Gomez
Rosa Gomez

Born and raised in the East side of San Antonio, Garrett Jackson always dreamt of going to college. He is first in his family to take that step, so he wasn’t quite sure what to do.

He was, however, sure of one thing: he was determined. Seeing his mother overcome obstacles to care for him and his brother gave him drive but what he lacked was direction. That’s what he got from his theatre director at Thomas Jefferson High School.

“Mr. Joseph Brown wasn’t just a theatre director, he was a friend and a father figure to us all and helped me find a passion for theatre,” said Garrett, “Mr. Brown showed me there’s so much out there and all you have to do is go out and take it.”

Theatre is not only a passion, but a career path as well. Garrett is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin seeking a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Studies. He wants to be a theatre arts teacher.

“Going to college is important to me, because it allows you to explore life,” the 19-year-old explained. “College is a place where you find out who you are and what you can do.”

Garrett is a first-generation college student – the first in his immediate family to enroll in higher education.

Along with that title comes many obstacles, perhaps the biggest is finding the path to college. That’s where Generation TX San Antonio came in.

“GenTX helped me figure out what to do. They helped with information about the SATs, ACTs and with the actual college application,” said Garrett. “They even helped me create a brag sheet.”

A “brag sheet” is like a resume. It lists student accomplishments, their school organization involvement and extracurricular activities. Students can use when applying to college to show they are motivated, involved and can multi-task.

Along with the brag sheet Garrett says GenTX SA staff serve as role models.

“Their experiences from college helped motivate me to want to go to college even more,” said Garrett, who is expected to graduate in May 2016.

Generation TX students Estefania Lamas Hernandez and Garrett Jackson at Mayor Castro’s May 2012 College Week Event in San Antonio.

Estefania Lamas Hernandez also had a lot of motivation and support and says going to college was the best way for her to say “thank you” to her parents who gave her a chance at an education in the United States.

Estefania was six years old when her family moved to the U.S. from Mexico following a job opportunity for her father. Her mother, who earned a Master’s degree in Mexico, had to leave her career as a political strategist and become a stay-at-home mom.

“There hasn’t been a day since moving that I don’t recognize the extreme sacrifice my mother made,” explained Estefania. “This is how I show that I appreciate her, so one day she can stand up and proudly exclaim ‘Es mi hija’ (That’s my daughter)!”

However, Estefania’s journey began with a major obstacle – starting school in the U.S. with english as a second language (ESL).

“My first day of first grade was spent in tears,” Estefania said, “My teacher, LouAnn Phillips, took me under her wing and tutored me after school. I finished the ESL program by the end of the year and moved into the Gifted and Talented program a few years later.”

Estefania graduated from Douglas MacArthur High School in North San Antonio this past June and is the first generation in her family to go to college in the United States. Estefania is now a freshman at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

“This isn’t just for me – it’s for everyone who has ever been in my position. It’s for kids whose families cannot fathom their children receiving a higher education because they cannot afford it. I’m here because they can’t be,” Estefania said.

Learning about financial aid helped her get there with resources such as Student Aid Saturdays San Antonio (SASSA).

The SASSA event offers free one-on-one help to parents and students filling out federal and state forms for college financial aid such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Beginning January 26, SASSA is held for 11 consecutive weekends through April at 23 host sites around San Antonio including high schools, colleges and community centers. The program partners with schools, businesses and education focused community organizations across Bexar County including Mayor Julian Castro and the City of San Antonio, Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Education Partnership and Generation TX San Antonio.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 90% of high school graduates across the nation who filed a FAFSA application enrolled in post-secondary education. Most of Esefania’s tuition is covered by scholarships and endowments.

“Students just have to buckle down for a few hours and work with teachers to fill-out the applications and write essays,” she said, “I thank GenTX for showing parents that higher education is possible under every budget and that college is a blast!”

Estefania is expected to graduate from Wellesley May 2016.

Learning about financial aid and scholarships is what helped Clarisa Media reach her dream of attending Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Clarisa Medina, Gates Millennium Scholar. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s College.

The Thomas Jefferson High School alum is also a Gates Millennium Scholar (GMS). The GMS Program selects 1,000 talented students annually to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice.

“My senior AP English teacher James Hammond is one of the main reasons I am a Gates Scholar,” said Clarisa. “He took the time to sit and talk with me, staying later than normal and arriving at school early. He is one of the most outstanding teachers I have ever had.”

Hammond is also a curricula specialist, creating lesson plans for SA-Ready.org and helping other teachers challenge students to be prepared for college rigor.

Another inspiration for Clarisa is her sister, Cecily Medina, whose footsteps she is following to the college classroom.

“My sister and I took it upon ourselves to set the standard of going to college,” Clarisa explained. They proudly walk the campus of Saint Mary’s College together as the eldest of the family’s eight children.

Clarisa says the support from her sister and others gives her motivation.

“I know if I need anything I can call the GenTX team. They give me moral support, academic advising, peer mentoring, and sometimes just a friend since it is so hard being away from home,” said 18 year old Clarisa. “I even got a care package and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that I am cared about and thought about.”

Now, Clarisa is providing that guidance to other students.

“Do not hesitate to fill out those out of state applications, leave your town, leave your state, and explore somewhere new. Travel the world and find out who you really are,” Clarisa said.

Clarisa says she chose to go to college because she wants to impact the world. She is majoring in Global Studies and Political Science and hopes to become a U.S Ambassador.

“I knew if I wanted to accomplish that I would have to have a degree,” explained Clarisa. “I know when I am educated I have power.”

Mari Aguirre Rodriguez is the Executive Director of Generation TX San Antonio. You can reach her at mari@gentx.org.

Rosa Gomez is the Director of Marketing & Communications for Generation TX San Antonio. You can reach her via Twitter @rgomez1 or email at rgomez@gentx.org.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org