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Class of 2011 student speaker persevered
Student Success Story, May 25, 2011
As the commencement speaker for the Community College of Rhode Island Class of 2011, Jael Acevedo, 23, of Providence, wanted her speech to focus mostly on the achievements of her fellow graduates and what it took for them to get to the commencement stage.
Acevedo knows about the everyday perseverance it takes to graduate.
Born in the Dominican Republic, she immigrated to New York City with her parents when she was 8 years old. She spoke no English at the time but, nevertheless, her teachers thought it would be best to put her in a regular classroom and let her learn the language as she went.
“It was definitely difficult, especially with homework assignments,” Acevedo said. “Sometimes I would get frustrated, but I would say I picked it up pretty well by the end of the fourth grade.”
Learning English was not the only challenge in moving to the United States. “It was a culture shock, too, because I was just getting used to living in America,” Acevedo said. “The children here seemed to be colder because I didn’t speak English. I found that the kid who stands out is always treated differently.”
Acevedo’s family moved to Providence in 1996 and she began attending Central High School in 2001. “Although I wasn’t happy with [the school] at first, I ended up loving it,” Acevedo said. “The friends that I made in high school were great support during the tough years of adolescence.”
Acevedo had high grades and her guidance counselors urged her to apply to four-year colleges including Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, but she had one substantial problem: She lacked permanent residency in the United States.
“Even though these schools were interested in me, they wanted my Social Security number, and I didn’t have one,” Acevedo said.
She graduated from high school in 2005. Thinking that she would have to wait to go to college, Acevedo tried to be patient while her claim for permanent residency was being processed.
That December, Acevedo learned that her permanent residency petition had been accepted and she could now attend college. However, she was already set to visit relatives in the Dominican Republic and applying from there would be difficult. To make matters worse, the registration deadline was nearing.
“I was really afraid because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to start at CCRI,” Acevedo said.
While overseas, she searched with her father for a place with public Internet access and completed CCRI’s online registration process just before the deadline. She took one class in the spring 2006 semester and then increased her workload, gravitating toward nursing.
Over the years, it was sometimes hard to find the money to stay enrolled, Acevedo said.
Because she didn’t have financial aid when she first applied to CCRI, her parents had to take a substantial financial hit in paying for her initial tuition without it.
With her permanent residency secured, Acevedo found a job to help her get through college but still struggled to make ends meet. She found herself without a stable home several times, sometimes having to sleep on friends’ couches.
“At times it was very discouraging because it seemed like no matter how hard I worked, things never fell into place for me,” she said.
On top of that, Acevedo was losing interest in her major. “When I was in high school I told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those students who chooses a major and spends a lot of time working toward it just to change her mind, but I ended up being exactly that,” Acevedo said.
Over time, Acevedo realized that her fellow nursing students seemed much more enthusiastic than she, which led her to believe that she was in the wrong field. She also said she wanted to free up a spot in the competitive program for someone who was passionate about nursing.
From carefully managing her finances, Acevedo had become adept at personal accounting, and a friend suggested she take courses in that field instead.
“That was the first time my eyes were opened to the financial world,” Acevedo said. “When I took accounting, I fell in love with it.”
Acevedo changed her major to General Business in spring 2009. She joined DECA, a collegiate organization for business and finance students, in fall 2010, as soon as her work schedule permitted. She credits her accounting professor and DECA adviser, Joanne Orabone, for her maturation into a motivated and focused student.
Acevedo, who graduated with a 3.8 GPA, has been accepted with a scholarship to Bryant University and hopes to become a certified public accountant. She is attempting to close a small gap in funding and said Bryant is her first choice for continuing her education.
Acevedo often helps her friends manage their finances and has found that she enjoys showing them how to maximize financial efficiency to achieve their own goals.
“I really want to use my skills to help people, especially those who immigrate to America,” she said. “People who come here from another country are not always sure how to properly manage their business finances.”
Acevedo said she does not regret pursuing nursing for so long, because it gave her time to be certain of her true path. She said that CCRI was a great stepping stone for her, and encourages students to be involved both on and off campus.
“It may seem difficult to have to manage school and other responsibilities, but I am very glad I persevered,” she said. “It helped me grow.”
After five years, Acevedo has received her diploma. “When you have something tangible after you’ve worked so hard, it really makes it worth it,” she said.