A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

An additional four to six-week delay faces students who have already submitted their FAFSA for 2024-2025 academic year.
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Amy Moore, Reporter • February 14, 2024

HEP celebrates 16th graduation

The High School Equivalency Program (HEP) offers migrant farmworkers the opportunity and assistance to receive an education and obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma, which they can then use to gain employment or begin a college education. (Bryan Fructuoso)

Drum beats, rhythmic dancing and the scent of burning copal heralded the 16th High School Equivalency Program graduation on Aug. 24 in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Bertolini Student Activities Center. HEP students dressed in caps and gowns received a blessing ceremony by Danza Xantotl de Santa Rosa, a local Indigenous dance group. 

Masters of ceremonies Margarita Garcia and Elvira Lopez welcomed students’ families and friends with a land blessing in English, Spanish and Mixteco, saying, “We also recognize the diverse community of migrants, many of whom our students emigrated from and made their home here today from México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Perú.”

SRJC President Dr. Angélica Garcia, the daughter of farmworkers, presented a heartfelt and uplifting speech in Spanish. “You all are going to be the next presidents, leaders, lawyers, doctors,” she said. “The education system here in the U.S. doesn’t recognize our stories, our strength, that our people were doing math before textbooks and using the stars to navigate. You all come from a strong ancestry.”

“I’m proud. He did an incredible job; got in [Sacramento State], put his mind at it, worked and got to this next part of the journey and it’s been incredible to watch him grow. That’s what the program [HEP] is all about,” said HEP director Catherine Prince. (Bryan Fructuoso)

During her speech, Dr. Garcia noted the impact her mother had on her upbringing. “My mother wasn’t able to help me with my studies, but she would always tell me, ‘Hey mija, I can’t give you money, I can’t give you a car, I can’t give you a house, but what I can give you is my love, my affection and my support’ And so for all of you that are here today, thank you for supporting your graduates.”

During the ceremony, HEP outreach and recruitment specialist Enedina Vera presented William Abdiel Garcia, a former HEP student, with a $1000 scholarship from the National HEP/CAMP Association. “This is a fairy tale that came true,” Garcia said.

Garcia plans to transfer to Sacramento State and major in nursing. “Never would I have imagined being at this point where I achieved something. I started from zero, with no education in Guatemala, and to then get here [the United States] with nothing and then to receive support from many SRJC personnel, The Dream Center, HEP. They helped me get here today,” he said. 

For Lourdes Jimenez, HEP marked the beginning of a new life. Several years ago an emergency cesarean section due to a complicated pregnancy left her in a comatose state. Weeks later she lost her baby and reached an all-time low. That’s when her friend Adela referred her to the High School Equivalency Program. 

“I feel very fortunate, thanks to God, for giving me a second chance at life. The HEP team, they never stopped believing in me,” Jiminez said. “The motive for why I decided to keep studying is because I want to be a role model for my daughters and to show that in this country anything is possible despite being an immigrant, despite not knowing the language. Si se puede [Yes, we can], and here I am achieving my schooling.”

Following the conclusion of the ceremony, graduates and their families gathered in Bertolini Quad to celebrate together and enjoy lively music, tacos and Dorilocos.

 

About the Contributor
Bryan Fructuoso, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Bryan Fructuoso-Zurita (He/Him/Él) is in his third semester at The Oak Leaf. He enjoys meeting new people and listening to their stories because everyone has one to tell. His passion lies in covering individuals and amplifying their stories, particularly on underrepresented groups on campus and Latinx stories. To pursue his passion further, he is working towards obtaining an associate of science degree in both digital journalism and digital filmmaking. Bryan's ultimate dream is to create your favorite television series or film one day.