‘Dare to Dream Big': DACA Recipient Graduates From San Diego State University

Chula Vista resident Javier Diego Jacinto, 22, moved to the U.S. with his parents at the age of 6 with big dreams -- including to one day graduate from college

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A San Diego County resident and DACA recipient who’s worked several jobs to pay his way through college achieved part of his dream Tuesday when he graduated from San Diego State University.

Javier Diego Jacinto, 22 – proudly flying a Mexican flag – walked across the stage at Petco Park during SDSU’s commencement ceremony as his family cheered from the stands.

The first of seven SDSU commencement ceremonies began today at Petco Park – a celebration extra special that was once feared threatened by the pandemic. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford has more on the momentous event.

It was a big moment.

With that stroll across the stage, Jacinto became the first member of his family to graduate from college – a responsibility he does not take lightly.

“It’s my responsibility to set that example for my parents, for my brothers,” he told Telemundo 20 in an interview one day prior to his graduation. “I want them to realize that they too, can aspire to do something they love.”

I want them to realize that they too, can aspire to do something they love.

Javier Diego Jacinto, SDSU's Class of 2021

Jacinto – who is a recipient of the government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented students – came to the U.S. with his parents at the age of 6 from Cuarnavaca in the state or Morelos in Mexico.

“They left their life in another place so that I could aspire to do bigger things --- things that they didn’t get to do,” he explained.

Today, Jacinto is the oldest of five children.

A few years ago, one of his brothers, Emmanuel, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Emmanuel died on Sept. 7, 2019.

“It’s definitely been a hard journey – with many challenges and obstacles that I’ve had to face growing up,” he explained.

Jacinto told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7 that growing up in the U.S. undocumented was tough. When he moved to the U.S. with his parents, he remembers feeling lonely and insecure.

There was the language barrier.

The new city, the new school.

And he said growing up with friends who didn’t share his struggles or experiences was also difficult.

“I was filled with doubt,” Jacinto recalled.  “I felt like I didn’t belong in this country.”

Through his childhood, Jacinto said he felt stuck “in limbo.”

Growing up in America, he said he sometimes had a hard time identifying with his Mexican culture. But he also couldn’t fully identify as American.

Still, the U.S., he said, has always been home.

“My whole life – all I know, the food, the celebrations, birthday parties – they’re all here, all beautiful memories, they’re all here, in the United States,” Jacinto said.

He said being a DACA recipient – and “coming out as undocumented” to friends and mentors – has long been a source of concern for him. He has worried, over the years, that people will think less of him for being undocumented.

So, when he was able to finish college – and try on that cap and gown in front of his family this week – the feelings were deep.

Jacinto’s parents, Javier Diego Jacinto Sr. and Elda Jacinto, told Telemundo 20 they were beyond proud of their graduate.

They said he’s a shining example for his younger siblings – including his new baby sister, 3-month-old Emma, who has been another reason – after Emmanuel’s death – to keep pressing forward.

Jacinto told Telemundo 20 he was helped along to graduation day by advisors, teachers and mentors and SDSU’s Undocumented Resource Center, a group dedicated to helping undocumented students succeed. As a member of the center, Jacinto also helps other students in similar situations as himself.

Drawing on the work ethic of his parents, Jacinto said he worked several jobs throughout the last few years to pay for his college tuition. He was a shift manager at a fast food restaurant. He worked as a janitor. He helped his dad with landscaping gigs and helped his mom clean houses.

“He dedicated himself 100% to his studies and to working his jobs – from work, to home, to school, to his studies,” Elda Jacinto said.

Whatever it took to achieve the dream.

Jacinto graduated from SDSU with a degree in liberal studies and education. Next, he will join SDSU’s Bilingual Credential Program in the fall.

After that, the rest of his dream is to become an elementary school teacher.

He said he wants to set an example for other young students like himself and to give them the love, care and support that he’s gotten throughout his life.

“I want them to aspire to dream big – I ‘double-dare them to dream big’ – as one professor once told me,” Jacinto said, smiling. “I dare you to dream big, I dare you to aspire to fulfill your dreams, no matter what obstacles or circumstances you face. I believe in you; you have a whole community – your family, your teachers – who believe in you.”

To watch Jacinto's full story on Telemundo 20, click here.

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