One California woman who recently graduated from the University of California, San Diego, is going viral for her unconventional yet moving graduation photos.
Jennifer Rocha, who graduated from UC San Diego on Saturday, said she wanted to honor her parents by choosing to have her graduation photos taken in the fields where she worked alongside them to support her education.
University of California San Diego’s interview with Jennifer, along with a few of her graduation pictures, was posted on the university’s Facebook page last week, and her heartfelt tribute has since gone viral.
“I wanted to take those pictures out there, specifically in the field, because that’s what made me go to college,” the 21-year-old graduating senior told “Good Morning America.”
“That was my dad’s lesson of saying, if you don’t pursue a higher education, you’re going to be working here the rest of your life.”
Her hardworking parents—Jose Juan and Angelica Maria—are both immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico.
The University of California student started working in the fields when she was a junior in high school. Every day, her dad would pick her up from cross country practice at around 2 or 3 p.m.
They would come home, eat, change, then go to the fields to plant strawberries overnight.
Jennifer said working late nights in the field—usually until around 2 or 3 in the morning—was “tough labor.”
“We would get off…then come home, shower, nap, and then wake up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to get ready for school in order to take the city bus because I couldn’t miss it,” she recalled.
Jennifer realized that she didn’t want to do that for the rest of her life, so she worked hard to finish her education.
The Coachella, California, native said her parents encouraged her and her siblings to pursue higher education. Jennifer also drew inspiration from her older sisters, who both graduated from college.
“My parents have been working as migrant field workers since they were like 6 or 7 years of age. I always saw them providing for us first before them,” she said.
Jennifer’s four years in college hadn’t been easy. Aside from being a full-time student, she also worked at the university’s police department to help pay for her tuition.
The graduating senior also opted to live in her older sister’s apartment instead of renting a dorm because she knows her parents couldn’t afford the additional cost. For all four years, she had to commute to and from school every day.
At times, her work shifts wouldn’t end until 4 or 5 a.m., so she only had a few hours left before her next class. When that happens, Jennifer would just nap in her car instead of driving home then go to class after.
“It was tough times, but I mean, we got that diploma,” she said.
Jennifer earned a degree in sociology with an emphasis on law and society. She plans to use her education to pursue a law enforcement career.
If ever she goes through with it, she will be the first one in her family to do law enforcement, a feat that will surely bring a whole other level of pride for her parents.
Jennifer’s other goal is to increase Latino representation in the field and “help take the criminals off the streets, those who are actual criminals.”
Now that her graduation photos and her story have gone viral, Jennifer hopes she’s able to inspire other immigrant families.
“My parents being migrant workers were able to have three girls get their college education, and you can do it, too, and your kids can,” she said.
The graduating senior also reminded Latinos not to forget where they came from.
Jennifer knew she wouldn’t have a college degree if it wasn’t for the support of her parents, and this was her unique way of letting them know that she’s grateful for everything. It’s indeed a beautiful tribute!
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