Jesenia Larios with family.When Jesenia Larios graduated high school in 2001, she couldn’t imagine herself pursuing a degree.

“I just didn’t have the same opportunities or help to find out how to get to college,” she said. “I was the first in my family to speak English and graduate high school.”

Larios, a Spanish and secondary education major set to graduate in 2024, said she hopes her experience can give others the courage to pursue higher education, even if they’re not a traditional student.

“I hope to inspire people my age or even younger to go to college. They still have an opportunity, and it’s not as scary as it seems,” Larios said.

Her parents moved from Mexico to Yakima in the 1980s, where they worked on orchards picking cherries and other produce.

“Every morning my dad would say to do our best, because he’s working hard so one day we don’t have to,” Larios said. “We were a low-income family, but if you look past those challenges you see you have pretty good memories that shaped who you are today.”

In 2019, Larios enrolled at Yakima Valley College to continue her career in education. She eventually joined the YVC Honor Society and began to get offers from colleges around the country. However, after visiting her niece, a WSU student, she decided to come to Pullman.

“Pullman just has this tranquility, this peace,” Larios said. “There is this mix of student life and family life and community life that all kind of revolve around each other cohesively. And because it’s family friendly, it’s made the transition easy for me and my children.”

After graduation, Larios hopes to return to the Yakima School District and work with Spanish-speaking students and their families.

“As students get older, they sometimes feel like their parents can’t relate to them and that they can’t relate to their culture, so they feel stuck in between,” Larios said. “I want to connect with those families and those first- or second-generation students to show them the path they can build alongside their parents.”

Top image: Jessica Larios (front) with her family.

By Alysen Boston, WSU Impact