Against the Odds: Migrant student determined to graduate, go to college

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Nayeli Lopez is often described by her friends and teachers as “shy,” “quiet,” and “humble.”  But that doesn’t mean she lacks intensity.

“Totally focused,” said teacher Lisa Polk.  “Eyes on the prize 100 percent.  100 percent.”

As graduation season excitement grows at Taft High School, Lopez is quietly and diligently working toward the day she gets her diploma.  That work ethic has been honed for years far away from school by spending long hours working in the fields.

“It’s hard work,” said Lopez.

Every weekend and school vacation for the past three years, Lopez has helped support her family by working in the orchards and vineyards south of Bakersfield.

“I think this is not for me,” said Lopez.  “I want a better future.”

Lopez has seen the toll a lifetime of hard work has taken on her parents and she wants something different for herself. 

“They are tired,” said Lopez.  “They don’t have time to prepare food.  They go to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock and then get up at 3 in the morning.”

Principal Bernardo Valenzuela sees  Lopez as an inspiration for any student who thinks poverty will prevent them from achieving their dreams.

“(She’s shown) a lot of tenacity to deal with all the adversity,” said Valenzuela.  “Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.  It takes perseverance.  It takes focus.” 

Lopez’ parents have made it clear they do not want their children to follow in their footsteps in the fields.

“We work hard from sun-up to sundown and make little money,” said Jacobo Lopez.  “I told her to study hard, work fewer hours but make good money.”

His daughter will become the first person in her family to graduate high school and the first to attend college.  Lopez plans to attend Taft Community College in the fall with the goal of one day becoming a teacher.

“She will succeed, “said Polk.  “A real paycheck will make the world a better place for her family so that her parents can smile a little more than they do now.”

 

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