Jennifer in graduation gear with Bay sign and Jennifer with hands in air celebration graduation
Jennifer Diaz celebrating her graduation from California State University, East Bay
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Graduating College, With Determination and With Honors

by Bonnie Shea

Making Waves Foundation » Stories » Graduating College, With Determination and With Honors

Voices of Making Waves: Meet Jennifer Diaz

“I’m very, very proud to be able to reach one of the biggest goals that I set for myself: to complete college,” shared Jennifer Diaz, a first-generation college student and Wave-Maker who graduated from California State University, East Bay this spring 2022.

“It took me four years to complete all my requirements. Not only that, but I’m also graduating with Summa Cum Laude honors as well,” she shared. “If you would have told me that when I was in high school, I would have not believed that I would graduate with honors.”

“I was very serious in my education. I was very determined and focused on my courses,” Jennifer added.

Jennifer Diaz on laptop
Jennifer wrapping up her studies at CSU East Bay

Real-life learning

Jennifer has been committed to recycling her success and giving back to her community. The criminal justice major, who is also minoring in ethnic studies with a concentration in Chicanx and Latinx studies, recently completed an inaugural internship program at Youth Transforming Justice in her hometown of San Rafael.

“They were looking for a college intern specifically from the Latinx community in San Rafael,” Jennifer shared as the nonprofit received a grant to increase opportunities for Marin Latino youth to advocate for their peers.

As a part of the internship, Jennifer put her studies into action by managing student cases, serving as a peer mentor, shadowing restorative circles, and supporting prevention workshops.

“I like working with the youth in the Bay Area. It’s really nice to help them. It brings a warm feeling in my chest,” she said. “They remind me of my childhood classmates and friends, who didn’t have a peer mentor or positive role model in their childhood.”

“The program is youth oriented, so the youth, student volunteer, and intern voices help shape the success of the program. Together we come up with a restorative plan to help them recover the harm that they may have caused in their communities. We also help the youth referred to the program complete their community hours to prevent them from getting a criminal record and falling into the traditional criminal justice system,” Jennifer shared about the restorative justice work.

“I wanted to experience what I was studying in school in real life,” she said.

“As a criminal justice major, I study restorative justice, so it’s really fascinating for me to actually see it in real life, to learn about each person’s role in restorative practices, and to see how we create a safe community for at-risk youth,” she said.

“We give the opportunity for the youth to share their story, how they felt, and what they saw. They have the floor.”

The internship also opened future possibilities for Jennifer. “It made me realize that we need more bilingual facilitators, more bilingual employees in every career basically. That is something I will take into my career,” she shared.

“It has also made me feel motivated to pursue a master’s degree in the future, such as in public administration or public policy or counseling,” she said.

‘Best feeling in the world’ to have financial support for college

Thanks to Jennifer’s participation in a college access program in high school, she discovered Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP.

“That scholarship definitely helped me get to college,” she shared. “I remember how worried I was about being able to afford my college education. I was concerned about how my family was going to support me through these next four years in college. I didn’t want to bring a big financial burden to them.”

“Once I got that email that said I got accepted to the Making Waves CAP program, it was the best feeling in the world,” she shared.

“It alleviated the stress about the money when it came to college. My family was very proud and happy that I earned this college scholarship.”

Gaining more confidence through coaching

Another aspect of the program Jennifer has leveraged has been the one-on-one college coaching.

“I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to work but once they described it to us, I thought it was amazing to have someone give us coaching throughout college,” she described.

“I feel like the coaches understood where I was coming from since they already went through college. They’re able to mirror my feelings.”

Jennifer shared that her college coaches, at first Courtney Arguello and then Ayasha Tripp, supported her college journey, encouraged her involvement and well-being on campus beyond academics, helped her feel more connected to a community, and motivated her to reach her goals each semester.

“I’ve noticed that at least once every two weeks, I need those talks to help me feel motivated because sometimes we do burnout. After each phone call, I feel re-energized, confident, more positive, and supported,” she shared about how she benefited from the coaching.

“I’ve talked with both coaches about impostor syndrome a lot,” she shared. “They always validate my feelings. They sometimes tell me their personal stories, which I appreciate, and it makes me realize that first-generation students in college go through similar challenges.”

“Imposter syndrome is a challenge that is felt by many first-generation college students – feeling like they don’t belong in spaces, the fear of being exposed, and/or that everything they have accomplished is due to luck,” shared Courtney. “Our job is to hold up that mirror for Wave-Makers to help them see that they do belong and they do have the skills and experiences.”

“Jennifer’s commitment to asking questions, learning, and advocating for herself and her community has helped her gain the confidence and will continue to help her grow in the next phase of her journey,” she said.

Celebrating college graduation and future plans

As she graduates from Cal State East Bay, Jennifer is taking a moment to reflect on her experiences and accomplishments. Her coaches are also sharing in the celebration.

College coach talking and laughing with student
Jennifer (right) with her college coach Ayasha (left) meeting on the CSU East Bay campus before graduation

“I’m impressed beyond words with not only the accomplishments that Jennifer has been able to achieve but her ability to demonstrate authentic reflection and commitment to her own self growth and her overall integrity as a student and young professional,” shared Ayasha. “Her internal gifts and skills as a person reflect her external achievements. I have no doubt that she’ll make a great impact as she makes her way into her internship this summer!”

Jennifer earned a summer internship with the State Bar of California and specifically with their Office of Chief Trial Counsel and Office of Strategic Communications and Stakeholder Engagement.

“I am proud of myself for being able to find, apply, and achieve this internship position. One of my tasks will be working with the executive director’s team and helping improve their communication strategies with the Spanish community,” Jennifer shared.

“I have a good feeling that this internship will help me expand my network, increase my confidence, and it will open many doors of opportunities in the near future!”

Jennifer in university honors program stole at Cal State East Bay sign
A first-generation college graduate, Jennifer graduated from CSU East Bay with a criminal justice degree and with honors

“Thankfully graduation was in person this year. I’m very glad that all my family could watch me complete one of the biggest accomplishments that I’ve done so far,” said Jennifer, whose family, including her grandparents from Guatemala were at the graduation ceremony to see her receive her diploma.

“They’re very proud. It was a long journey. They also feel very excited and emotional. My mom and my grandmother are criers, so every time we talk about graduation they have tears in their eyes,” she shared.

“I have learned that we’re all on our own different journey and on our own paths,” Jennifer added. “It’s not a race and it takes a little while to get where you want to go.”


This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students, alumni, teachers, coaches, and more members of our Making Waves Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities — and highlights our work in creating educational opportunities that change lives.

ABOUT MAKING WAVES FOUNDATION

With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating more than 1,100 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 500 Wave-Maker alumni.