When Yesenia Robles graduated from the CEC Middle College of Denver she was sure of one thing—she wanted to be a journalist. Although CEC doesn’t have a journalism program, it was her love of writing and a particular day in her English class that inspired her to pursue the career area. “One day in class we saw a video about the war in Sarajevo and there was a journalist featured in the movie talking about how he tried to keep this boundary between being a journalist and being a human—seeing these children hurting and needing homes. It caught my attention and since I had always wanted to write and I like watching the news it just hit me that that was what I wanted to do,” she said remembering back to that day that made an obvious impact on her future.
Through the emphasis of Career and Technical Education classes and post-secondary planning at CEC, Yesenia saw the importance of advanced preparation and career exploration and spent her semesters trying on careers such as Fashion, Photography, Culinary Arts, Med Prep and Fitness. Those courses gave her the opportunity to figure out what she liked and what she didn’t, but none of them interested her as a career. “I looked at other career classes, and I would say to myself, there are parts of it I like or maybe I don’t like it that much, or I like doing it, but not for a career.” The one thing that did stay true to the end, was her desire to become a writer. So, as a senior, Yesenia decided to test the waters by entering the Executive Internship program to get some real world experience with a small Denver newspaper.
Because Yesenia was bilingual she was an immediate asset at her first newspaper internship, La Voz. Within a few weeks of being hired, she was already seeing her byline in the weekly publication as well as taking photos for stories. And with that experience, her interest grew, giving her the motivation to continue down the same road, to a second internship with the North Denver Tribune. By the time she graduated from CEC in 2006, she had two significant job experiences under her belt as well as a semester worth of college credits earned.
With a high school diploma, a good dose of determination and a dream, Yesenia spent hours commuting back and forth on Highway 36 so that she could attend the University of Colorado. She will admit that it wasn’t easy living in Denver and going to school in Boulder. She was so busy attending classes, holding a steady job and spending time on the road that she didn’t get to enjoy much of what campus life had to offer. Nor did she have the opportunity to write for the school newspaper. But there is always more than one way to achieve a goal and Yesenia was determined. As one of only 20 students admitted to the school of journalism as a freshman (most students had to wait until junior year to apply), she worked hard on her studies during the school year and sought out internships in the summer. Having had the internship experience at CEC, she knew how much it contributed to her professional goals, so she continued to jump at any chance she got to prove herself in the “real world.” In all, she completed three internships during college all while finishing school in three-and-a-half years and without taking out a single college loan.
The road that Yesenia traveled during those years, was far from easy. Long days and nights driving, continuous focus on school, a social life that had to take a back seat, but at the end, one thing she learned was that at the intersection of hard work and dedication, lies success. And Yesenia found that success in an internship with the Denver Post, which eventually turned to full-time reporting, which she’s been doing now for four years.
What can other students learn from Yesenia’s success? Her wisdom comes directly from a place of courage and a willingness to ask for help. “I think my success is partly being a first generation graduate and being Hispanic. I didn’t have parents who could tell me this is what you can do. I didn’t have money to go figure out what I wanted to do with my life while I was in college. If I was going to go to college, and I always wanted to go to college, I was going to have to know what I was going to do before I got there. I wasn’t going to go waste my time and money, because I didn’t have money. And I always thought about it that way. I had to rely on other people. I had to be the one to always ask for help. When I was getting those internships I had to push the counselors—help me get this internship. Help me fill out this application. Where else do I look? From the beginning it had to be that way, because no one was going to be paying attention if I wasn’t asking questions. I had to ask questions, otherwise nothing would have happened.” She said.
That questioning nature not only got her through school, but got her to a job she loves, where she has the opportunity to ask more questions. Questions about the stories relevant to our city. Questions of which the answers will inform and inspire others. But one thing she does not have to question is, if her hard work will pay off. It already has. “I had no idea I’d reach my goals so soon. And now my aspirations are changing constantly. I always wanted to work at the Denver Post, but I always figured it would take me five or 10 years to get here and now I’m already here and I’m like, what do I do now?” It’s a good problem to have this early in her career, as she’s already shown to herself and the world, that the sky is the limit. Work hard and your hard work will pay off—even when the road becomes bumpy.
“Growing up Hispanic and the oldest sibling, when my parents needed something I had to do it. I hated it and I was always embarrassed. It was in middle school when my dad was no longer able to help me with my homework. He couldn’t understand what he was doing any more.” He said, “I’m sorry hija, I can’t help you. You’re going to have to figure it out on your own. Go ask questions though.”
“And I remember at my Quinceañera, I was dancing with one of my uncles and he gave me the same piece of advice and it stuck with me. We were dancing and he said, “my daughters are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to sound dumb, but that’s the most important thing you have to do Yesenia, is ask questions.”
And so, her inquisitive nature has become the secret to Yesenia’s success. She has learned the importance of speaking up, asking questions and being prepared to embark on a journey that may be seemingly long and endless, but she has learned when all is said and done, the answers do come to those who keep their eyes on the road.