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Profiles in success

Although there is mounting concern about the large number of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants who drop out of high school or get pregnant as teenagers, there are also hundreds of thousands who are getting the college educations they need to enter the middle class. Here are a few of their success stories:

Judicita Condezo

[Photo of Judicita Condezo]
Age: 22
Home town: Annandale
Accomplishments: BA in biology, Virginia Tech
Aspirations: PhD in biodefense
Obstacles overcome: Condezo's Peruvian-born parents have only high school educations and were unfamiliar with the U.S. college system. As a longtime restaurant worker and salsa promoter, Condezo's father also had limited financial resources.
What made a difference: Condezo's parents read aloud to her when she was a toddler and were determined that she should go to college. Despite the financial sacrifice required, they enrolled her in Catholic schools from elementary school through high school. Condezo's mother, a stay-at-home mom, was a constant presence at her schools as a volunteer, and she often made up for her inability to help with homework by consulting teachers and other parents.

Noel Mendoza

[photo of Noel Mendoza]
Age: 19
Home town: Los Angeles
Accomplishments: Sophomore at Georgetown University; scholarship from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Aspirations: A degree in culture and politics from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service; a law degree or a graduate degree in public policy
Obstacles overcome: Mendoza's Mexican-born mother and father have only high school degrees. Mendoza was not an avid student as a child, and his father's greatest hope was that he would graduate high school and go to work in the family's pallet construction yard. Even now at Georgetown, Mendoza says he must make up for his lack of knowledge, compared with classmates whose parents were far better educated and more prosperous than his.
What made a difference: During Mendoza's last year in middle school, his older brother started getting straight A's, prompting Mendoza to try to keep up with him. As Mendoza's grades improved, counselors at his Catholic school, part of the Cristo Rey Network, which offers rigorous college preparation to low-income youth, saw Mendoza's potential and helped him apply to top colleges.

Hemly Ordoņez

[Photo of Hemly Ordonez]
Age: 24
Home town: Los Angeles
Accomplishments: BA in international affairs, Georgetown University
Aspirations: Medical school
Obstacles overcome: Ordoņez's Guatemalan-born parents had only a high school education.
What made a difference: Ordoņez's mother took her daughter on frequent trips to the library and signed her up for such activities as tap and ballet as she grew older. She attended public magnet schools for gifted and talented children, which offered rigorous instruction, exposed Ordoņez to the possibility of going to college and helped her apply. "All of my cousins stayed in local neighborhood schools," Ordoņez says. "Their parents wanted their kids to do well, too, but they didn't always play it up the way my parents did. One of the running jokes was that I was always given all this homework while my cousins were outside playing. Well, there's a group of 15 of us that grew up together, and I'm the only one who has completed college."

Lucy Flores

[Photo of Lucy Flores]
Age: 30
Home town: Las Vegas
Accomplishments: BA, University of Southern California; in third year at the University of Nevada's Boyd School of Law; helped successfully lobby the Nevada legislature to pass bills addressing wrongful convictions
Aspirations: Running for public office
Obstacles overcome: Flores's Mexican-born father's schooling did not go past the third grade. Her Mexican-born mother left the family when Flores was still a child. She was raised in a house where money was so tight that she remembers dinners of government cheese and edible weeds. She joined a gang at 13 and was locked up in juvenile detention by the time she was 14.
What made a difference: Flores's parole officer was "the first person who didn't just assume I was this horrible, waste-of-a-life person," Flores said. "Finally, I had someone who expected something better of me, and it made me want to not let her down." Although she dropped out of high school, she got her GED, went to college and on to law school.
By N.C. Aizenman - The Washington Post
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