Like many of the Boulder County students who graduated from Front Range Community College on Thursday, Julia Jacobs’ path was not that of a traditional student.
Jacobs, 41, said she barely made it through high school after having her first child at 16. She helped to raise her brother and sister on top of her three children.
“School has always been put on the back burner for me because I haven’t had time to,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I had to work. I had to support my family.”
She felt that college was an unrealistic dream and school was not a priority in her family, insteading focusing on working hard and staying afloat.
Two of her kids have now graduated from high school, and her youngest will be graduating next year. Jacobs said while she was advising her own kids to go to college, she felt hypocritical not having her own degree.
“I need to lead by example, not only for them, but for my family and myself too,” she said.
Three years ago, she enrolled at Front Range Community College, and on Thursday she received her Associate of Arts degree. She’s now headed to the University of Colorado Denver to get her English degree.
“The unrealistic dream of me going to college is coming true,” Jacobs said.
Working a fulltime job as a circulation manager at the Longmont Library, being a fulltime student hasn’t been easy for Jacobs. She said aside from the challenge of finding time, the hardest part was navigating the college system as a first generation student.
“It’s scary because I didn’t have anybody to ask, you know, how do I do this?” she said. “What is an associate degree even? It’s just little things that I didn’t know about that were really scary.”
Jacobs found support through Front Range’s Latino leadership program, LEADS, and TRIO, a program that provides community support to students with limited income, are first generation and/or have a documented disability.
She said the programs helped her build connections, find scholarships, receive tutoring and just get encouragement sometimes.
“It helped boost my confidence and it was really a great support system to help me achieve this goal,” Jacobs said.
She added that she would not have been able to get her associate degree and keep her job without the online courses offered by the community college.
“It kind of feels like I’ve lived my life backwards because I had my kids, then started my career at the library and now I’m going to school,” she said. “It’s all backwards. And it’s not easy because if it was then everyone would do it, right?”
Once she has her English degree, Jacobs plans to pursue a master’s in library science so that she can become a librarian. She might also use her English degree to be an instructor or tutor for students who can’t otherwise afford it, since she knows what that is like.
“Just giving them that little bit of confidence that they need to keep going forward, because a lot of times that’s just what people need,” Jacobs said. “A little bit of confidence just to push them a little bit to move forward to their goals and aspirations.”
Jacobs said while graduating from Front Range feels great, the best part is seeing how her pursuit has pushed other family members to pursue their own educational goals. She said this pursuit isn’t just for her but for anyone she can inspire.
“I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about going to college to challenge themselves and just try it,” she said. “Enroll in one class at Front Range and see how it is. Just try to keep challenging yourself and allow yourself to do that. It won't be easy. You’ll make mistakes. That’s okay.”