When Jacqueline Martinez talks about graduating this week from USC, she is quick to credit her parents for their role in helping her achieve her academic dreams.
“Graduation day is essentially the moment I’ve been waiting for — to be able to deliver that bachelor’s and that master’s — because it belongs to my parents,” she said. “Their sacrifices are very much why I’m here.”
“It will be the moment that all those long nights and challenging times have been for.”
On Friday, Martinez will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in non-governmental organizations and social change from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Art and Sciences and a master’s degree in communication management with an emphasis in marketing from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Martinez’s ability to achieve so much in four years is a perfect example of how parental engagement can be essential to good outcomes in higher education, said Angela Laila Hasan, professor of clinical education with the USC Rossier School of Education.
Young people are still growing; they still need guidance.
Angela Laila Hasan, USC Rossier School of Education
“Young people are still growing; they still need guidance,” said Hasan, an expert in school policy and parental involvement. “They still have the family to lean on emotionally. That’s very important to balance out the academics.”
Martinez not only managed to earn both degrees in four years but also played trumpet in the Trojan Marching Band for three of those years. She inherited her work ethic from her parents, who for decades have worked the graveyard shift cleaning movie theaters besides juggling other jobs.
Benjamin Martinez and Argelia Rosas raised their three daughters and one son in Willowbrook, a small, unincorporated community in Los Angeles County between Compton and Watts. Jacqueline, their middle daughter, was a standout student at Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy and while she was still in middle school, she set her sights on USC.
“She’s always been outstanding in school,” Rosas said. “I’ve always known she would go far.”
Martinez said that her family emphasized academics as a route to success.
“It’s important that somebody breaks that glass ceiling,” she said. “My little sister and ongoing generations can see it as a more paved path and not something down the road.”
What comes next for this new USC graduate
Post-graduation, Martinez is seeking a job that allows her to work at the intersection of social impact and entertainment.
“I’m open to however that manifests itself,” she said. “I’m really big on making sure that I’m giving back and paying it forward to people who come from hard situations like myself.”
I’m really big on making sure that I’m giving back and paying it forward to people who come from hard situations like myself.
Jacqueline Martinez, new USC graduate
During her freshman year, Martinez earned a coveted four-year Mork Family Scholarship, which covers full tuition and helps with housing and living expenses. Each year, only about 10 high-achieving freshmen are selected from thousands of applicants for the merit-based support.
Now, Martinez wants to give back. “I want to make sure that my parents aren’t working multiple jobs forever and that I am able to provide for them long-term in some way, however I can,” she said.
Family life and Trojan life
Since her freshman year, Martinez made sure to involve her parents in USC life. Because Martinez was in the marching band and got free tickets to USC football games, her parents and siblings were able to regularly attend. She also took her parents to USC Kaufman School of Dance performances and other activities.
“I was always very excited to go to the games, and it always filled me with pride to see her play in the band,” Rosas said. “It always made me happy that she was able to travel to different places [with the band], thanks to the university.”
Martinez said that taking her parents to campus events was “by far the most rewarding part of my USC experience.”
USC graduate: Overcoming pandemic problems
Those campus visits stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Martinez had to move out of her residential college suite at USC Village and go back home. She struggled with spotty Wi-Fi as she continued her classes online, and her parents lost work because movie theaters had closed. They tried to make ends meet by doing Postmates deliveries but still struggled with food insecurity.
“It was, overall, unstable and hard,” Martinez said. “In those times, just trying to look for the good that is happening in the world, despite the negative headlines, helped. I lean on my parents and my family more than anybody — even now as I brace myself for post-college life.”
I’m feeling very happy and proud of her. This is something that she’s wanted since she was in high school and has worked very hard for.
Argelia Rosas, Jacqueline Martinez’s mom
Rosas joined her daughter on campus last week for a photo. Her focus, as it often has been, was on her daughter.
“I’m feeling very happy and proud of her,” Rosas said. “This is something that she’s wanted since she was in high school and has worked very hard for.”
“I know,” she said, “I’m going to be very emotional.”