Today’s blog post comes from Taylor Aguilera, a tenacious first-generation college student and working mom of two. Taylor will graduate in December from Hillsborough Community College with her Associate of Science degree in Paralegal Studies. Our goal is to highlight other students, community volunteers, donors and higher education advocates in the future, in order to share their perspective and experience. If you have a story you would like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Taylor Aguilera
On a typical Monday, my feet hit the floor at 6 o’clock in the morning and do not get to rest until 10:30 at night.
“These long, sixteen-hour days will all be worth it eventually” is what I have repeated to myself continually for the past four years.
In 2015, my life began a transformational journey. I had begun my pursuit of a higher education. That same year, I also became a mother. However, during my first semester at college, I learned that not only would I become a mother – I would be a single mom at the age of 20.
This was an extremely difficult time in my life, but I didn’t let it slow me down. When I became a mother, my priorities shifted towards giving my child the best life he could possibly have. I began to realize the importance of getting an education in order to become a part of a skilled career field.
I entered the workforce shortly after having my first son. I had been desperately seeking full-time employment and insurance benefits so I could take care of my family. I worried about my potentially bleak job prospects since I had a criminal record looming in my past. For several years, I had let my record discourage me from seeking a “good job.” I had believed the biggest lie I had ever been told: if you have a criminal record, you will never amount to anything. Eventually, I realized I had to overcome the fear of being rejected if I wanted to provide for my family. With the encouragement of my mother, I began to apply to jobs in the government sector.
After a few interviews, I started a job as a courtroom clerk, where I was immersed in the world of criminal law. I found myself fascinated by the law and enthralled with the attorney’s legal arguments. It was no longer enough to just be a clerk in the court room. I knew that I needed to be “closer to the action.” I decided to pursue an education in the legal field.
After some research, I found my home county did not have any colleges that offered a legal program that I was interested in. However, Hillsborough Community College offered a Paralegal Studies program. I knew that I wanted to pursue that program so I could move from the courtroom to a law firm, no matter the distance I’d have to travel.
While taking the Introduction to Paralegal Studies class, my professor strongly encouraged everyone in the class to apply for legal positions and to apply for scholarships. I had never thought of applying for scholarships before, mostly due to having the misconception that only 4.0 students and athletes are awarded scholarships. With the encouragement of my professor, I applied for the HCC Foundation for a scholarship. I was awarded the Gaybor Coalition scholarship for community service in the LGBTQ community. Receiving that scholarship made focusing on my family, career and studies just a little bit easier.
As I got further into my program, I began to realize that I wanted to do more than be a paralegal. My classes opened my eyes to the possibility of pursuing a law degree so I could one day practice law. I spoke with my professor about wanting to attend law school. He encouraged me to pursue that goal and to continue my education.
The funny thing about life is that it never slows down. All while my education was gaining traction, things kept happening in other areas of my life. I met and married my husband during this time, I began a new job as a paralegal and I found out that I was expecting a second child. I had to learn and re-learn how to balance a family, a full-time job and full-time classes. Slowing down was never an option for me. I had (and still have) and intense dedication to my education.
Though my time is almost through at Hillsborough Community College, I still have many years of studying ahead of me. I am using HCC as a launching pad into higher education. After I graduate in December, I have plans to enroll in the University of Central Florida’s online political science program. Then, I would like to attend law school. I am a first-generation college student. I want to use my education to transform the trajectory of my family and show my children the importance of an education. My goal is to one day open a law firm that specializes in giving people who are in the criminal court system a new chance at life. My firm would focus on rebuilding their futures through record expungements, diversion programs, early termination of probation, job referrals and housing referrals.
If there is any one word that I can use to encapsulate my story, it would be resilience. There has been time after time where I have been faced with obstacles that should have slowed me down or stopped me completely in my tracks. But I know in my heart of hearts, that complacency will never equate to success. We will all make mistakes in life, but it is up to us – and only us – to make sure those mistakes don’t make us.