UTRGV student puts gratitude into words to win ‘Family of the Year’ essay contest

BY Cheryl Taylor

Jimena Rivera, a junior majoring in social work at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, personifies the many benefits of parental involvement in a child’s education.

In gratitude to her parents for their support, to which she attributes a large portion of her academic success, Rivera penned an essay to enter in the Family of the Year Essay Contest – and won!

“My parents’ unconditional support has contributed to me not just getting through my semesters but doing well in them, and for this, they should be recognized as ‘Family of the Year,’” Rivera wrote.

The contest, sponsored by the UTRGV Office of Student Involvement, honored the Rivera Family during UTRGV Homecoming festivities, at the basketball game held in the Edinburg Campus Fieldhouse on Saturday, Feb. 20. Rivera’s parents, Marbelia and Ricardo Rivera, along with sister Mariana, were presented with a special plaque, and Rivera was given $500 V-Bucks to spend as she wishes on campus purchases.

“This was very exciting, to have my family recognized, and a nice prize that I can really use,” said Rivera, an Honors College student who has been named to the Dean’s list every semester.

Rivera explained in her essay how her parents obtained student visas for the sisters to attend schools in Brownsville. Jimena attended Episcopal Day School for grades four through six; Incarnate Word Academy for grades seven through eight; and First Baptist School for high school.

“When I heard about the contest, I thought I would take a shot at it, that I might have a chance,” said Rivera, who is an English tutor for students in the Veterans Upward Bound program.

“Before, I was an OK writer, but after tutoring English and helping others with their compositions, I realized my writing had improved,” Rivera said. “I’ve come to learn the key to writing is organization. I made an outline for my essay, just the way I encourage my students to do, and I took it from there.”

Rivera wrote in her essay about the time and effort her parents have put forth to ensure their daughters’ educations, including driving the sisters to and from school across the border five days a week. Extracurricular activities during her high school years added the need for greater flexibility in the daily transport.

Along the way, Rivera’s father has helped her with physics and her mother has worked with her on Spanish grammar. Also, when her mother saw that Rivera was interested in social work, she arranged meetings with a few social workers for her to learn more about career possibilities.

On schedule to graduate in May 2018, Rivera will participate in an internship during her senior year as part of the social work curriculum. A youth group leader at First Baptist Church in Brownsville, she envisions herself working with children in a school setting or an agency such as Child Protective Services.

“My parents have set the example of hardworking and loving parents,” Rivera said. “They have paid for my education without regret, understanding that financial aid is not available for me.”

Rivera said her parents recognize the power of an education and feel strongly that learning should not stop with a degree.

The last sentence of her essay says: “They encourage me to pursue a master’s once I complete my bachelor’s degree, and I will, with the hope that I can continue to honor their sacrifice and dedication.”