Lakewood Ranch High's Jennifer Campos becomes the first in her migrant family to graduate.
When Jennifer Campos, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, walks across the LECOM Park baseball field June 3 to get her diploma, she will look into the stands to see her mother and brother beaming with pride.
Campos’ diploma will not only mean she completed high school and will start the next step in her life as a freshman at the University of South Florida, but also that she is the first in her family to graduate from high school.
“I think it’s a big success for my family because I’ll be the first and then my brother (9-year-old Alexis) will hopefully follow,” Campos said. “It means a new beginning, a new beginning for my family to be able to be successful. It’s an open door for me to know I’m able to do so much. Everything I propose, I can accomplish.”
Campos’ parents, Lilia and Alejandro Campos, moved from Mexico to the United States in 1999 and have been working for Faulkner Farms for 21 years growing cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. Until four years ago, when Alejandro Campos was diagnosed with lung cancer, the migrant family spent June through October in Michigan as both parents worked the farms.
While at Lakewood Ranch High School, Campos has excelled academically and participated in clubs and organizations, including flag football, Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, National Honor Society and Health Occupations Students of America.
As a shy sophomore, Campos decided to join JROTC to help her come out of her shell, improve her physical fitness and develop her leadership skills.
Lt. Col. Richard Roller, who heads the Lakewood Ranch High JROTC program, said Campos is a "strong, independent and yet compassionate soul" who did well in the program.
"She is one of those we can count on and served as a good mentor and teacher for those around her," Roller said.
Campos had to miss several days of school over the years to assist her father, who didn't speak English, when he was going to doctor appointments in Tampa.
She spent the beginning of the current school year doing hybrid learning, meaning she was at school two days per week and at home the rest of the week. In November, she transitioned to doing e-learning full time to limit the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19 at school while also helping to care for her father.
“I definitely do feel overwhelmed,” Campos said. “It’s been stressful to maintain my grades, keep up with friends, work and do homework. It’s exhausting.”
Then in February, Campos’ father died due to his cancer.
“I just always thought he’d be here for my graduation,” she said.
Campos didn’t let her grief keep her from excelling in school and focusing on her future.
“You have to either try to defeat that [grief] and be resilient or let yourself go and be depressed,” Campos said. “It’s always been a difficult road, but the difficult decision is to continue. I know he will be proud, and my mom, brother and sisters (26-year-old Susana and 27-year-old Graciela) are still here and need to see me be happy and graduate.”
Throughout Campos' three years as a member of JROTC, Roller learned more of what she's been through in her life and the dedication it's taken her to succeed.
"When I realized what that young lady had been going through as a migrant child whose father had a terminal illness, the fact she walked in with a 4.0 GPA, was consistently giving herself to others with and had career aspirations to go into the medical field to serve the community where she came from is the reason why I won't forget her name," Roller said. "She is one of those rare individuals that will stick with you because of the character she has that's inherent within her soul."
Campos is headed to the University of South Florida this summer to start the College Assistance Migrant Program, which is designed to help participants from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds complete their first year of college.
She is pursuing a degree in nursing with the hope of specializing in gynecology and obstetrics.
Her inspiration to enter a medical career stems from her desire to help others, her father having cancer and being with her sisters, who each have children.
“The world obviously needs nurses, and there’s always going to be a need for them,” Campos said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s my purpose — to serve.”
Campos hopes to inspire other Latinas to pursue a career in the medical field.
“It’s fairly challenging to get out of the idea you’re going to be good enough for society," she said. "(Are) you going to be good enough for your career? As a Latina, I think it’s been hard to break out of that stereotype, that we’re able to just do little amounts.”
After receiving her bachelors degree, Campos plans to receive her masters degree. Then she plans to become a traveling nurse before moving to Michigan.
“I know my parents sacrificed to come into this country and give us better opportunities,” Campos said. “I’m looking forward to living in a nice community, having my mom live with me and giving back to her everything she has done for me all these years. I want to see my brother graduate. I want him to be successful.”
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