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Grit, grace and determination fuel this Bruin

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UCLA student Jazminne Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy of Ms. Rodriguez.)

Jazminne Rodriguez (UCLA 2021) has overcome repeated adversity to realize her dream of a UCLA education, laying the groundwork for a law career in service to the Latino community.

In honor of International Women’s Day 2021 on March 8, the UCLA International Institute is publishing a series of profiles of female Bruins who have overcome challenges in their quest to effect change in the world.

UCLA Global, March 8, 2021 — Jazminne Rodriguez joined UCLA as a transfer student in fall 2020 as a Spanish, Community and Culture major. Her lovely smile and soft, calm voice give no indication of the obstacles she has overcome to become a Bruin, a goal she set over a decade ago after a high school field trip. “There was something about UCLA that made me feel strong inside, and I knew in my heart that I need to be here — this was the place for me,” she says.

COVID-19 pandemic precautions mean she is attending classes remotely, but Jazminne is nevertheless experiencing a bit of campus life from her perch in student residential housing. Unlike most students, she is well-prepared to handle the challenges of the pandemic because she has already overcome more adversity than most people face in a lifetime.

The first in her family to graduate from high school and go to college, Jazminne has been on her own since she turned 18. Raised in a low-income household in Corona, CA, she says, “I didn’t know at first how prestigious and expensive UCLA was. So I started working at 15 and saving all the money I could.”

After graduating from high school, however, a prolonged illness led to repeated hospitalizations and unemployment. When a toxic relationship stalled her dreams, she says, “I realized I need to break away from it. Leaving that relationship was empowering and liberating to the point that the first thing I did was to make sure to go college.”

A year after she began classes, an industrial injury interrupted her education and left her permanently disabled. Multiple medical procedures, years of bedrest and, ultimately, a deep depression followed.

Yet Jazminne advanced toward her educational goals after each setback, slowly but surely building her achievements and self-confidence. After getting the help she needed to recover from depression, she said to herself, “I don’t want to feel stuck, I need to keep living. And I started putting more attention on my studies.” Accordingly, she set out to locate all the services and assistance available to her at Norco College in Riverside County.

Between the help of a dedicated counselor and the support of the college’s Student Support Services Group and Disability Resource Center, she graduated with distinction in June 2019 with an A.A. degree in Spanish. Jazminne credits her success to the invaluable support she received: “They prepared me to get where I am today, and that’s something that I’ll always be thankful for.”

A year later, Jazminne completed a Pathway to Law School certificate from Chaffey College with a 3.9 grade point average and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. The seven-course certificate program, sponsored by the California State Bar Council on Access and Fairness and nine law schools in the state, is designed to help students develop skills needed in the legal profession. “The program was very challenging, it really pushed me to my limits,” she says.

Her ultimate goal is to become an immigration lawyer. Although not personally affected, Jazminne witnessed the devastation of many high school classmates when parents or other relatives were deported. “Growing up and seeing that pain in people’s lives really sparked something in me that I can’t explain,” she remarks. “ It made me feel like something was wrong and needs to be fixed.”

“Jazminne is a bright, capable, articulate young woman with that rare and valuable combination of skills required of every successful attorney,” says Sergio Alcala, counselor and instructor at Norco College. “It takes a unique strength to turn adversity into an opportunity and that’s exactly what Jazminne plans on doing as an attorney. Considering all of these, Jazminne brings a distinctive joie de vivre to whatever she does.”

When it came time to apply to four-year colleges, she was accepted by all five University of California and four California State University campuses to which she applied. UCLA remained her university of choice — and offered her full tuition.

“I appreciate the time it took me to get here,” she comments, “because now I put more thought behind what I do.” Asked what keeps her going, Jazminne, who is Catholic, replies, “I rely on my faith a lot. It definitely helps me keep positive and stay grounded.”

Now in her second quarter of classes at UCLA, she is enjoying the intellectual challenge of upper-level elective courses and her program’s emphasis on community service and culture. “The major really aligns with my passion,” says Jazminne. During fall quarter, she volunteered remotely for the San Fernando Valley’s Children’s Refuge Center and is looking forward to doing community-based research for future courses.

Her commitment to her studies remains rock solid. UCLA Professor Jesús Torrecilla points to “her solid academic preparation, impressive intellectual ability and strong Spanish language skills. Her analytical skills are excellent,” he continues. “Many students come to class to fulfill a requirement, but Jazminne is genuinely interested in learning and growing.”

Presently on course to graduate at the end of calendar year 2021, Jazminne may extend her studies to complete a minor in Chicana/o and Central American Studies, which has been recommended as an additional foundation for law school. “As for law school,” she says, “the sky’s the limit. I’ve gone through so much in life, from where I started to where I am now. I think it shows that I could reach for the big schools, like Harvard or Columbia.”

For students encountering their own difficulties, Jazminne offers this advice: “Never give up. Think back to a time when you encountered trouble before, and see how far you’ve come since then. We could have the whole world falling down us, but it’s up to us how we choose to see that moment. Are we going to give up? Or are we going to keep going?”