Class of 2011
Culmination of a Dream
When Lesly graduated from UC Merced in May of 2019, it was the culmination of a journey of perseverance and preparation. Her entire extended family drove up to Merced to watch her graduate. “I was first gen, not just of my siblings, but of all of my cousins to graduate.” It was a wonderful day for the family in Merced and her Nativity Prep family in San Diego. Lesly is one of three in her 2011 class to earn her college degree in four years. She credits both her family and her Nativity Prep community for her success.
Lesly is the oldest child of a tight-knit family of four. Her parents, Alicia Duarte and Adan Castro worked hard, modeling hard work and persistence, lessons their daughter internalized.
Her dad, Adan came to the US as a teenager. He works two jobs to provide for his family. Her mother Alicia is a special education technician/assistant in an elementary school. “I shadowed my Mom at work and it’s what inspired me to someday become an occupational therapist. I saw all the different folks working with the children and the OP position most appealed to me. I knew I wanted to work with children with special needs, as that’s who my Mom was helping.”
Nativity Prep: Second Family
Lesly was in elementary school when she overheard her mother’s friends discussing the small class sizes and Catholic tradition of Nativity Prep. “My Mom always wanted us to graduate college, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, even when I was in elementary school, she expected me to earn good grades. She started college, but never made it through.” Lesly knew Nativity Prep would help her reach her and her mom’s college dreams.
When Lesly entered Nativity Prep as a sixth grader, she says she was shy and a little anxious. Her charisma and infectious smile helped her make life-long friends and she quickly found supportive mentors. Classes were fun but tough, Math was particularly challenging. Lesly credits Mr. Solis for his tutoring and counseling that gave her solid coping skills for life’s challenges as well as Math.
Lesly internalized the expectations placed on her and worked very hard in the classroom, consistently earning Principal’s list honors. She knew she wanted to continue her academic career at an equally rigorous high school. She chose Our Lady of Peace.
High School Challenges
Lesly’s high school years brought more challenges for the young student. The school was bigger and the academics more rigorous. She put a lot of pressure on herself to succeed. “Watching my parents work such long hours and be so tired at the end of the day was always a motivator for me. I’m so grateful for their hard work, but I don’t want to put in the same type of work as them. I wanted to work normal hours, make better money and someday help my parents work fewer hours”.
She continued to rely on her Nativity Prep family for tutoring and encouragement. She attended every GSP class and developed a strong bond with Xochitl Alvarez. The support she received from both her family and Nativity Prep gave her the courage to persevere. She got involved in the OLP theatre program. When she performed in “Footloose”, Xochitl, Mr. Power and Mr. Solis attended.
During her Junior year, Lesly broke her leg playing soccer. She was in a full leg cast and needed a wheelchair to get around campus. In addition to the broken bone, she suffered back trauma and suffered debilitating pain for half her junior year and nearly all of senior year. Lesly never gave up, continuing to study and attend the GSP sessions.
College Applications Bring New Challenges
After her high school injury and recovery, Lesly wasn’t sure she wanted to matriculate straight to college. Nativity Prep encouraged and supported her, and she applied to and gained acceptance to several CSU and UC schools. The financial aid piece was a concern. Lesly had seen her parents work hard to support her family, she didn’t want to stress them or take on debt of her own.
After reviewing her acceptances and aid packages, she chose UC Merced. With aid from school and her parent’s contribution, Lesly graduated in four years, debt free!
UC Merced – turning Point
The dream Jennifer had of one day being able to take vacations to different places started coming true in the summer of 2013 when she went to Europe for the first time. Since then, she has visited more than twelve countries, and is headed back to Europe this May. As a member of Nativity Prep’s community, we invite you to join us in celebrating Jennifer’s success. We could not be prouder of the success you have achieved and your contributions to society.
Giving Back to Nativity Prep
College also helped Lesly realize how important her Nativity Prep years had been and she still occasionally called for advice. “I remember calling Xochitl during Freshman year because there was some sort of hold up with financial aid. I couldn’t call my parents, so I called Xochitl and she helped me solve the issue.”
Lesly has always volunteered at Nativity Prep. During high school she would tutor, grade papers and anything else that was needed. In college, she would visit during breaks and help with GSP and the summer writing workshops. She loves sharing her experiences with and encouraging the students.
Currently, Lesly is a mentor for a 7th grader and loves it. “My mentors inspired me because they were strong and encouraging women. I want to do the same for my mentee.”
Lesly, you are an example of perseverance and commitment and we wish you continued success as you pursue your dreams!