Daughter of Immigrants Who Taught Selves to Read, Write to Graduate College

TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s the moment Susana Mojica has been holding onto for three years. It’s helped get her through long days of attending classes, working, raising three children and nights of studying interspersed with just a few hours of stolen sleep.

In her mind’s eye, she can picture it: She’ll be in the student section on the floor of the stadium at Arizona State University’s commencement – and she’ll officially have her college diploma – the first in her family to earn one.

On May 8, Mojica, a 35-year-old Starbucks shift supervisor from Alexandria, Va., will be among the more than 260 graduating from ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Any eligible U.S.-based Starbucks partner who works 20 hours a week or more can use the program to go to college through ASU’s online program, and have their tuition fully reimbursed. More than 7,000 are currently participating, with 1,000 expected to graduate by the end of 2017.

“(We’re) doing something that has nothing to do with creating more revenue or more profit for the company,” said Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, “but it has everything to do with making a deposit in the reservoir of the values and the culture and guiding principles of Starbucks. We’re doing everything we can to elevate the life of partners.” Schultz will give the address at Monday’s event.

Sunday night at a reception at The Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in nearby Phoenix, graduates and their families stood under lighted palm trees and shared stories of how they came to be there.

There, surrounded by other graduates, Mojica grew teary thinking about how far she had come. Her mother, Teresa Denard, and father, Jaime Herrera, both grew up in Mexico and went to work as farm laborers as young children, only attending a year or two of school. They taught themselves to read and write, Mojica said.

Now, in less than 24 hours, she knew she’d be sitting in ASU’s stadium and hearing Schultz speak. Then on Friday, she’ll be crossing the stage to get her degree along with fellow graduates at the College of Health Solutions.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Denard of her daughter’s graduation.

When Mojica and her other daughter, Nery, were young, she would tell them that someday when they grew up, she wanted them to do what she had not been able to – get an education. It’s an investment that no one can take from you, she would explain to them.

Mojica, who along with her sister was born in the United States, started going to community college after she graduated from high school, but worried about how she’d pay for it. “I had to take out a loan and got really scared about how am I going to pay back,” she said.

When she was 19, she fell in love with Edgar Mojica, who is on active duty in the Coast Guard. The two had to move around a lot for his work and she wasn’t able to continue college.

Over the years, she thought about returning to college but worried about whether her transcripts would transfer with each move. When she had children, twins who are now 5 and a 6-year-old son, she thought, “I couldn’t spend money on myself. I need to save for my kids’ college,” she said. “They are close in age and will all be in college at the same time.”

Mojica began working at the Arlington Starbucks Military Family Store. Her husband worked during the day while she cared for their kids and when he came home, she went to work. Despite her busy schedule, when the Starbucks College Achievement Plan was announced, she knew she wanted to do it. It was a family effort, she is quick to note, crediting her husband with making it possible. “The only way I could do it was because Edgar was there making sure the kids were fed, I was fed ...”  

At work, her customers encouraged her, including a former Coast Guardsman whom Mojica ended up interviewing for a paper she wrote on health and aging.

Doing a science degree online was challenging at times, she said, but she never let herself contemplate stopping. Everything she is doing is for her family, she said. This week her husband and kids will be cheering her from afar since it was too costly for them to join her. 

Now that she’s earned her bachelor’s degree, she has her eyes set on a new goal: She’s starting a master’s program in the fall for public health and will earn a nursing degree. She’s a nurturer by nature, she said, and nursing is a field in which she knows she’ll be able to find work when her family is transferred.

“It’s an investment for my family,” she said. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan gave her more than a debt-free degree, she said. “It gave me confidence.”

At Arizona State University’s spring graduation exercises May 8 in Tempe, Arizona, Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz will give his first-ever commencement address. More than 260 partners are graduating from ASU, the biggest-yet partner graduating class. Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduates will be in the audience. Commencement will be streamed live at 7:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (7:30 p.m Pacific Time) at http://www.ustream.tv/asutv.

Meet other partner-graduates:

Finding Home: Childhood Hardships Strengthen Starbucks ASU Graduate, Sirikwan O’Gorman.

Alexander Nunes, an immigrant from Jamaica, is the first in his family to graduate from college – and he’s ready to change the world.

Tragedy derailed Laura Fobes’ first shot at a college degree; now the 42-year-old mother of three will walk across the stage in Tempe.

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Starbucks to lead first-ever city-wide reusable cup project in California with NextGen Consortium