Gina Rodriguez wasn’t the first in her family to go to college, but she knows all too well how difficult it can be for someone to be the first in their family to make that leap.
“My eldest sister was the first to ever go to college in our family and I know how terrifying it was,” the actress told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “She told me stories. I was blessed to be the third child and by that point they had already paved such a massive path for me that there was almost nowhere to stray.”
As part of Clinique’s “Difference Makers” campaign, the “Jane The Virgin” star has discussed the importance of education as a tool to empower students to rise above their circumstances. In her emotional video for the cosmetic brand, Rodriguez explained how coming from a low-income neighborhood in Chicago showed her how easy it was for kids to get stuck in a cycle of “can’t and won’t.” Education, she said, changed that for her and her siblings.
The actress recently spoke in-depth with the HuffPost about education and how difficult it can be for someone to become the first in their family to go to college. During the conversation, the 32-year-old star had a powerful message for first-generation college students in the Class of 2020.
“First [I would tell them] how proud and incredibly inspired I am by those that are taking that leap of faith, that are taking that step that creates a role model within their family, which is to me monumental,” she told HuffPost. “But outside of that first congratulations I would say: ‘Now it becomes a challenge. Now is the time for you to go through an experience that will be tough, that will be challenging, that will feel like obstacles but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Rodriguez also shared some words of inspiration for any first-generation student filled with doubts or fear of the road ahead.
“It’s four years of life that you dedicate to hard work, to being persistent and ambitious and driven because you are the change,” she said. “You are not only experiencing this amazing time in college and getting your education — owning something that no one can ever take away from you — but you are going to be the face of your family, for your cousins for those that come after you, for even your ancestors. Just remember, during those times of fear or doubt, that you are right now discovering your true strength.”
And the star offered these words of encouragement for to students when they find themselves facing failure.
“Even when you fail in college, even when you find rejection, because you will because that is life, those moments are going to contribute to the celebration you will have when you have made your accomplishments and your dreams come true,” she added. “And let me tell you, that feeling is better than any feeling in the world. You cannot put a price tag on that feeling. You cannot put a price on how valuable your education is not only to you but to so many around you, to your community at home and ultimately to the story you’re writing.”
When asked about book that impacted her, Rodriguez had several recommendations. Most recently the star has been hooked on The Mastery of Love by Don Ruiz, which she says is “a beautiful navigation to discovering how to go on your path for self love.”
But back in her college days, it was Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s 2003 urban-study of life in the Bronx, Random Family, that she fell in love with.
“I would say in college Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc,” she said. “It’s so good. The reason why is because it really explains the delicacies of staying above water in the ghetto and trying to not perpetuate the reality in which you were born in... I grew up in the hood in Chicago and knowing the temptations, the sick cycle of the hood and what it can cause in someone is very real. So I really, really enjoy that book a lot because it kind of explains how much harder you have to fight in order to sadly not get stuck in that. But that’s something society’s done, that’s the reason why equal education to me is so important. Education is empowerment.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Gina Rodriguez is not a first-generation college student. She and her siblings who attended college are all first-generation college students.