Caps Off! Three First Literacy Scholars Earn Their College Degree

Written by Julie Slack, First Literacy Marketing and Communications Manager

three-frist-literacy-scholars-earn-college-degreeStanding at the base of a mountain preparing to hike to the summit can be intimidating, scary, overwhelming, and exciting. For adult learners these same feelings may resonate as they embark on their educational journey to attain a college degree. The hike may take longer than expected and there are often obstacles to overcome along the way.

For three First Literacy scholars’ determination and perseverance prevailed this past May when they each reached their summit and received their college diploma.

Jocelyne, Julia, and Damus are three First Literacy scholars who put in the hard work, tackled the tough trails, and kept forging ahead to their goal. We are excited to celebrate and honor their achievements.

Against All Odds She Achieved a College Degree

Jocelyne was just 16 years old when she left her home country of Haiti. Her father did not enroll her in school when she lived in Haiti, so she made the decision to come to the United States in hopes of receiving an education.

jocelyne-graduate-first-literacy-scholarWhen she arrived, she got a job as a babysitter and set her sights on a high school diploma. It was an uphill battle as she struggled to learn English and navigate life in a new country. After a great deal of hard work Jocelyne earned her high school diploma at Jewish Vocational Services while working and raising her own children.

For Jocelyne a high school diploma was just the beginning of her educational journey. Soon after receiving her high school diploma, she was awarded a scholarship from First Literacy. The scholarship allowed her to continue furthering her education.

“First Literacy has been a great support to me. They provided me with funding that enabled me to pay for my tuition. It was a blessing that I was able to receive scholarships four times to pay for my college tuition.”

With the support of First Literacy, Jocelyne enrolled in classes at Roxbury Community College; and over the span of four years, she completed her courses and achieved her associates degree in Health Sciences. On May 13, Jocelyne received her diploma from Roxbury Community College – proof that her perseverance and hard work paid off.

Completing her degree was no easy feat. She had to juggle school, working two jobs, and providing for her three children; but she never gave up.

She plans to continue studying, so that someday she can earn her nursing degree.

Determined to Further Her Education Despite an Unconventional Upbringing

Born and raised in East Boston, Julia and her siblings had an unconventional upbringing. They were not allowed to go to school or see conventional doctors. Julia’s first experience in a classroom was at the age of nineteen when she enrolled in the Harborside Community School Adult Education Program.

julia-graduate-first-literacy-scholarAdjusting to the school environment was challenging for Julia. She lacked the structured classroom experiences that most children grow up with and she struggled to adjust to school norms and expectations.

After a great deal of hard work Julia passed her HiSET exam and was nominated for a First Literacy scholarship. The scholarship provided her with a boost of confidence and the funds necessary to pursue her goal of becoming a Veterinary Technician.

“I have always valued education and it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to further it. Growing up I didn’t have that opportunity, and when I was awarded the First Literacy scholarship, I knew this was my chance to learn about something I really cared about – it wasn’t even a question that I wanted to go to college to pursue it.”

With the support of First Literacy Julia enrolled in classes at North Shore Community College; and over the span of three years, she completed her courses and achieved her associate degree in Applied Sciences with a major in Veterinary Technology. On May 26, Julia received her diploma from North Shore Community College – proof that her determination to pursue education despite her unconventional upbringing was worth the effort.

Julia was faced with many challenges in her quest to achieve her college degree. She was often plagued by generalized anxiety making it difficult to take tests, and during the pandemic she struggled with the unexpected transition to online learning; but she pushed on and continued to put her best foot forward despite any obstacles that got in her way.

This summer Julia plans to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination. She also hopes to one day earn a specialty certification that will allow her to specialize in a specific area of veterinary medicine.

She Arrived in America with Nothing, Now She Is a Registered Nurse

Damus was born and raised in Haiti. Seven years ago, after surviving Haiti’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, she made the decision to come to the United States in hopes of receiving an education. When she arrived in the United States, she didn’t have a job, didn’t speak any English, and struggled to make ends meet.

Her educational journey began at the Cambridge Community Learning Center where she took ESOL classes. After learning English, she set her sights on a college degree. She knew this was a big goal, but she was determined to realize her dream.

In 2017 Damus was nominated for a scholarship from First Literacy. The scholarship provided her with the funds necessary to pursue her education and her passion for helping others.

With the support of First Literacy and her family Damus set out to achieve her dream of becoming a registered nurse. Damus eagerly applied and was accepted to the nursing program at UMass Boston. Thrilled to be one step closer to her dream, she began her studies.

Unfortunately, soon after her journey began, she encountered many challenges and traumas. Her brother was murdered in Haiti, and her mother and aunt had a stroke. She also lost three family members in the span of four months.

damus-graduate-first-literacy-scholarDespite some extremely challenging times, Damus was committed to her education and her passion of becoming a nurse. Over the span of four years, she completed her courses and achieved her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. On May 27, Damus received her diploma from UMass Boston – proof that her determination, positive attitude, and hard work paid off.

“I always tell others who have a similar story like mine … those who come to America with nothing, who are starting from scratch, who are discouraged, who are thinking about quitting. I tell them ‘Do not quit, believe in yourself and do not let anyone tell you otherwise, regardless of your background, your ethnicity, your situation.’ If I did it everyone else can do it too.”

Damus is currently a registered nurse working in the emergency room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Forever ambitious and full of energy, Damus hopes to one day take her dream one step further and become a nurse practitioner.

Scholarships Change Lives

Each year, First Literacy awards $1,500 scholarships to recent graduates of Massachusetts Adult Basic Education (ABE) or English language programs who are continuing to vocational training or higher education.

Since First Literacy’s Scholarship Program began in 1990, over 500 scholarships have been awarded to adult learners throughout Massachusetts. Each First Literacy scholar has an inspiring story; many have overcome great tragedy and multiple obstacles, but they are determined to further their education and reach their summit. We are proud to support these scholars in their educational journey.

Congratulations to Jocelyne, Julia, and Damus. We hope you enjoy the view from the top!

Damus and Julia were also recently featured in The Boston Globeread the full article written by Globe Correspondent Madison Mercado.

June 2, 2022

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