(HARLINGEN, Texas) – For Esthela Hernandez, becoming a college graduate seemed like a dream that would never come true. But on Friday night, the Texas State Technical College Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics student earned her associate degree.

“This point in time seemed like it would never be possible,” said the 23-year-old. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what I wanted to be. But I did know I felt like I was doing nothing with my life and that college would be my answer.”

Yet she wondered how she could do it as a single mother of two and a first-generation college student.

“I’m the first from my family to venture down this path, so I really didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice or the know-how,” said the Harlingen native. “But I had the support of my family, especially my parents, and that was more than enough to get me through.”TSTC ArchitecturalGrad EsthelaHernandez 214x300 - TSTC helps first-generation college student realize her dream

Although it was difficult juggling a full-time class schedule with a full-time job and being a full-time mother, Hernandez still managed to excel with a 3.9 grade-point average.

She graduated as a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

“I told myself when I first enrolled in college that I would graduate as an honor student,” said Hernandez. “So this is a real accomplishment for me. I did it.”

Hernandez had to make a few changes along the way, even leaving her job, to make sure she continued passing her classes.

She landed a paid internship as a drafter in her chosen field of study with CASA Engineering in Harlingen.

“It was risky leaving my job, especially with children, but I feel that everything I have done is worth it,” she said. “I’m doing this to give my children and my family a better life — to break a cycle.”

She said she has already been able to apply what she has learned in the classroom in the real world and that the best is yet to come.

“All of my instructors are part of my success and the reason I want to continue my education and strive for more,” said Hernandez.

She plans to return to TSTC in January to pursue a second associate degree in Engineering.

“I have the foundation I need to enter the industry already and work toward a successful career. But I want to learn more so I can aim for even better-paying jobs,” she said. “And I have found my way at TSTC.”

Now, as a college graduate, Hernandez hopes she has set a good example for her younger siblings and children.

“I’m happy that they now have footsteps to follow and that I can help them with the college process. They are not alone,” she said. “It’ll be a different journey for them, and although I didn’t have this type of guidance, I did have parents who showed me what hard work was and how not to give up.”

More than 300 students earned their certificates or degrees Friday night during TSTC’s Commencement at the Harlingen Convention Center.

Registration for Spring 2020 is underway.

For more information, visit https://tstc.edu.

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