Against all odds: TSC first-generation graduate earns associate degree

Early Childhood Education program student Rocio Peña poses prior to her graduation from Texas Southmost College on Dec. 12, 2020.

The last few months have been a whirlwind for Rocio Peña, but she is celebrating her recent graduation from Texas Southmost College, an achievement the first-generation college graduate has always dreamed of.

The 20-year-old will earn her associate degree in early childhood education Dec. 12 during TSC’s virtual commencement ceremony at 6:30 p.m.

More than 350 students will earn their certificates or associate degrees during the ceremony.

“Graduating feels so unreal,” said the Brownsville native. “Sometimes it’s ‘Wow, how did I get this far?’ My girls were my biggest motivation.”

Peña is the mother of two girls, a 3-year-old and a one-month-old, whom she gave birth to during her last weeks in the program, but it came with a life-defying challenge – COVID-19.

Fortunately, Peña recovered with no affect to her baby and she said in her case COVID-19 felt like nothing more than a cold, but her aunt was not as fortunate.

“COVID took my aunt, my savior. She was one of my biggest supporters, helping me with my daughter while I was in school day in and day out,” said Peña. “Her loss has been challenging for our family. It hasn’t been easy. She didn’t even get to meet her newest niece. She was looking forward to it.”

Peña added that as a tribute to her aunt it was important that she complete her studies, which is why she didn’t take any time off after giving birth last month.

“I didn’t want to waste time. I couldn’t waste any time. Time is of the essence for me,” said Peña. “I have a family to support and I want to finish. Since all of our classes are remote right now it made perfect sense to keep going.”

Peña said TSC had a profound impact on her success and motivation to continue to pursue her education.

“TSC has provided me with the tools I need to succeed and believe in myself,” she said. “I am where I am today thanks to the educational resources available and to the instructors who genuinely care about our futures.”

A bright future is what Peña said is in store for her now, thanks to the college.

“As a first-generation college student, you realize early on how education is life-changing,” said Peña. “It’s what moves you forward and helps you gain secure employment. Education is one of the few things that can’t be taken away from you. With an education, you can’t lose.”

Peña will continue her education at a local four-year university in the spring to pursue a bachelor’s degree in bilingual and literacy studies.

“I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, but I’m sure glad I recognized early on that my passion is in teaching and changing lives,” she said. “This will also allow me to serve as a guide for my daughters throughout their education. Everything I’m doing is for them and I want them to see that anything, with hard work and determination, is possible.”

Visit TSC’s Early Childhood Education program for more information.

Spring 2021 classes begin Jan. 18.