Motherhood inspired Jessica Sanchez to earn a GED, go to college, and pursue a graduate degree in secondary education at Queens College while holding a full-time job.
“What distinguishes Jessica Sanchez ’11 from her peers is her effort, her enthusiasm, and her eagerness to master the material at hand.” That’s how History Chair Frank Warren describes Sanchez, who graduated magna cum laude this spring. She also received the history department’s Phi Alpha Theta Scholarship Key for Academic Excellence.
“She’d come to my office more than any other student. She wanted to understand the material fully, and I was so impressed. She is an excellent student and she really works at it,” Warren says.
Sanchez is the first to admit that she wasn’t always a stellar student. In fact, she dropped out of high school. She moved between the Dominican Republic and New York City through her teens, making it very difficult to keep up with the demands of the various schools she attended. “It was hard for me and there were gaps in my education,” she recalls. “Also, around that time I became a mother.”
Her daughter gave her the motivation to get back on track. “Nichole was my fuel. I didn’t have the luxury to take my time,” says Sanchez. Working full time at BBDO, an advertising firm, first as a floating secretary and then as a production assistant, she earned her GED and associate’s degree from Bramson ORT College in Forest Hills. She graduated with honors in less than two years.
She then enrolled at QC, where she again took the maximum number of credits allowed, cramming a four-year courseload into two-and-a-half years. She majored in history and minored in secondary education. “In one semester I took six classes,” Sanchez reports. “I knew I needed to finish and did, thanks to my fiancé, who helped me with child care.”
At QC, she found a second home. “I loved the entire experience,” she continues. “It’s where I made new friends and where I met professors who really supported me and were my mentors,” such as Warren and Hefer Bembenutty and Jack Zevin (SEYS). As a student in Warren’s senior colloquium on history revisionism, Sanchez wrote a paper on historians’ changing perspectives of the Ku Klux Klan over the last century; her efforts won the Arnold Franco Award—an accomplishment that makes her justifiably proud.
Bembenutty writes of Sanchez, “She is an outstanding learner.” Now she is enrolled in graduate school at QC, earning her master’s degree in secondary education. While she works toward her degree, she is a full-time substitute teacher in both middle school and high school.
She is also a full-time inspiration to Nichole, a teenager. “My daughter tells me, ‘Mommy, I’m not as smart as you,’” says Sanchez. “When I hear that, I say that being smart is one thing, but it is not enough. I tell her that the reason I do well is because I read and do my homework and work hard. I tell her I expect the same from her, and I don’t accept anything lower than an 80. She can do it. She’s a good student.”
Just as Sanchez pushes her daughter to keep working hard, so, too, does she envision herself in front of her own classroom very soon. “If I can be half as good a teacher as the professors I had here at Queens, I will be very happy,” she concludes.
Assistant Director of News Services