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Jael Acevedo chosen as 2011 CCRI student speaker
Student Success Story, May 17, 2011
Community College of Rhode Island President Ray Di Pasquale has announced that General Business major Jael Acevedo of Providence will represent the Class of 2011 as student commencement speaker at the college’s 46th commencement at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20, in the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Knight Campus in Warwick.
Acevedo, who received a scholarship from Bryant University to continue her studies in accounting, will address her fellow graduates, faculty members, guests and several dignitaries – among them U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman James Langevin, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and other state officials – during the ceremony.
“We had a number of exceptional nominees for student commencement speaker this year, but Jael impressed us with her enthusiasm, her life story, her humility and her motivation to make education a lifelong pursuit,” said Di Pasquale. “I’m certain she will leave her classmates with a thoughtful and inspirational message on commencement day.”
Acevedo, who will graduate with highest honors with a 3.8 GPA, said she wants her speech to focus mostly on the achievements of her fellow graduates, and what it took for them to get to the commencement stage. She 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. Despite the fact that she spoke no English at the time, 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. 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, she learned that her petition had been accepted and she could now attend college. She took one class at CCRI 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 took a substantial financial hit in paying for her initial tuition without it.
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. Over time, she realized that her fellow nursing students seemed much more enthusiastic than she, which made her 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 working and carefully managing her finances, Acevedo had become adept at personal accounting, and a friend suggested she take courses in that 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, as soon as her work schedule permitted in fall 2010. She hopes to become a certified public accountant; she 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.”
She said that CCRI was a great stepping stone for her, and encourages other 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 now will receive her diploma. “When you have something tangible after you’ve worked so hard, it really makes it worth it,” she said.