NJ Governor’s Hispanic Fellow Speaks of Program’s Impact During Graduation Speech

The New Jersey Governor’s Hispanic Fellows class of 2022 graduated on July 29. Funded and overseen by the State of New Jersey’s Center for Hispanic Policy, Research, and Development (CHPRD) in collaboration with HISPA, the 8-week program prepared 17 college-going Latinos to excel in their future endeavors via internships and professional development workshops. This summer marked the 10th year of partnership between HISPA and CHPRD.

One Fellow, Sarah Huezo-Márquez, spoke of the impact this program had on her during the graduation ceremony:


“Buenos diaaaas,

On behalf of the 2022 Governor’s Fellows Class, I would like to start by saying thank you to the NJ CHPRD and HISPA for making these past two months possible.


Quiero ser sincera y les voy a admitir que no me esperaba hablar enfrente de tanta gente. 

Pero bueno, aqui estoy, en el estrellato.

Hace dos meses mis compañeros y yo empezamos un recorrido el cual no estabamos seguros sobre lo que iba a suceder.

I remember not having any expectations; all I knew was that I was determined to create new connections while meeting people with similar interests.

On our first meeting at Princeton University, Rod and Jeanette had us do an activity where we set goals we sought to achieve during this program.

Our goals ranged from improving our public speaking skills to becoming more confident in our skin and becoming masters at networking. 

I can assure you that many of us were nervous at the thought of putting our skills to the test with so many mentors rooting for us.

As ironic as it sounds, a fear of failure is even stronger when you have people who believe in you.

Not because we fear failure itself but because we fear disappointing those who never doubted us.

Week by week, I had the pleasure of seeing everyone test their skills and work on applying new techniques we learned from the many mentors we met.

All thanks to our four musketeers, Ivonne, Jeanette, Rod, and Reinaldo.

A Puerto Rican mathematician with the god-given talent of persuasion, Ivonne is one of the strongest individuals you will ever meet.

While stern on paper, she is your number one supporter, ready to provide you with any resources possible to make your journey to success as smooth as possible.

We had Ivonne treat us to inspiring lessons, almost like easter eggs, that taught us key information to success in anything we set our minds to.

Then we have our duo from the Bronx, Rod, and Jeanette.

Rod, a LinkedIn wizard, is the person you go to when you have no idea where to start.

You know his answer will be to start with LinkedIn, but he will ensure you use it to its optimal potential.

Jeanette, our fountain of wisdom, a person you know will hold you accountable even when you think you’re in the clear.

I will never forget her for instilling in us the value of empathy and the relevance of emotional intelligence.

The latter is something we often forget as individuals coming from a work-first mentality.

She is a shoulder you could lean on at any given moment, especially when it comes to building your confidence and believing you are capable of overcoming your biggest insecurities.

Finally, we have Reinaldo.

A man of few words, but the definition of a proud Latino.

Once you hear him speak of Puerto Rico, you will be sold and want to move to the island immediately.

Reinaldo e Ivonne son dos individuos quienes nos han inspirado a aspirar a mas que nuestro Bachelor’s Degree.

De corazon, les digo que nunca en mi vida habia conocido a una persona Latina con un doctorado.

Mucho menos un Latino que emigro a este pais.

Sabia que existian, but I thought people like Ivonne and Reinaldo were unreachable for people like me to meet.

The two of them have made a Ph.D. look not only attainable but also attractive.

This is what I call representation.

It’s because of our four musketeers that we can really understand how much representation matters.

Before entering this program, I knew I could achieve big things if I put my mind to it.

But I did not realize how achievable it was.

During my first week in this program, I had the pleasure of meeting Brenda-Mejia Smith. 

A psychologist at Princeton University with a Ph.D. in, you guessed it, psychology.

By looking at her LinkedIn profile, I was already impressed with all of her accomplishments.

But what really drew me in was her background.

You see, Brenda was born and raised in El Salvador.

Moved to the United States at the age of 11 and had to go through the hardships any immigrant child must go through.

Learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, staying connected to their own culture, etc.

Brenda exceeded what was expected from her and completed her studies in Psychology so she could help others.

She overcame her struggles in life to become a mentor and teacher for the youth the way she wished she had.

Brenda’s story reminds me of another Salvadoran girl who also came to this country at the age of 11.

She too has aspirations and academic goals to achieve in her lifetime.

If you haven’t caught on, that girl is me.

I struggled to learn English, had a difficult time assimilating to my new environment, and lacked role models that reminded me of myself.

However, this changed thanks to the Governor’s Fellows Programs.

Every session, we had the opportunity to network with a variety of Latinos where I am sure each one of us met our own version of Brenda Mejia-Smith.

Some honorable mentions are Axel and Manny at UPS, who worked their way through the customer-facing side of package delivery up to regional corporate.

Alyssa Tarantino, a Project Manager at Bristol Myers Squibb who was in our shoes not too long ago, and has demonstrated how powerful the ability to pivot from your original plan can be.

And Diana Calle, an all-star advocate for the success of students and immigrants, and outstanding role model of how far being genuine and kind-hearted can take you.

I can assure you that with role models like these, we are bound to fulfill a request Manny made to us during our time at UPS.

This request was to keep working hard but not without looking back and lending a helping hand to those who find themselves where we once were.

So don’t be surprised if 5 to 10 years from now, you see any of us serving as mentors to other young bright minds in the country or leading non-profit organizations.

I think I have rambled for a little bit too long, but let me finish by bragging about my fellows class.

I must point out that all of the fellows have different aspirations, motivations, and life experiences.

Some of us plan on pursuing careers in law, business, design, or technology.

Some of us were raised in the United States, while others had the pleasure of experiencing Latin American culture firsthand in our homelands.

Some of us speak Spanish, Spanglish or are just starting to learn.

Some of us are even a blend of multiple cultures.

We all have different stories, but what we share in common is our love for our community and desire to make a difference within it.

I may be speaking for myself, but I can assure you that as a Latina in this country, I feel I must achieve the things that my mother and grandmother could only dream of.

As a woman in this country, it is my responsibility to carve the way for little girls to feel empowered and believe in themselves enough to enter highly competitive industries such as Law and STEM.

And as a human being, I must demonstrate the power of a smile and lend a helping hand when possible.

Les aseguro, como la nueva generacion, que venimos a cambiar este mundo para bien.

Puede que aun no seamos lo que queremos ser, pero hemos sido bendecidos con tener a gente que camino el camino no-recorrido por nosotros.

Esto va para nuestra familia, nuestros mentores, y ante todo, para la cultural!”