This is the fifth in a five-part series recognizing one graduating senior from each of Rockingham County’s high schools.
REIDSVILLE — Jacob Espejel didn’t know if his mother would be there to see him graduate after years in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices, but on June 10, she watched him walk across the stage at Reidsville High School.
“That day, I never looked at it for me,” he said. “I looked at it as an accomplishment for her, showing that she was a good parent.”
Espejel graduated from Reidsville High School with a 4.3 GPA and a class rank of 21 out of 183 students, despite years spent juggling school work and caring for his mother.
“My family life has never been the easiest because I had a father who since I was young would pick and choose when he wanted to attempt to be part of my life,” he said. “And then later on in life, when I was … in middle school, my mother who worked multiple jobs to support five children started having less and less energy.
“I wasn’t told until I had to ride with her when she was rushed to a hospital when one of her lungs collapsed that for many years her health had been declining.”
The second youngest of five, Espejel recalled that, during his junior year, his two older brothers left him to drive their mother to appointments.
“It forced me to take many days off of school in order to drive her to doctors all over North Carolina, in Winston and Kernersville,” he said. “I missed so much school in my 11th and 12th grade years trying to do this, but I knew she worked that hard for me.”
Nevertheless, Espejel was the first in his family to graduate from high school, a feat that he considers less of an accomplishment and more of stepping stone on his way to helping others.
“During my struggles, I've seen how much people have helped me, many organizations from food banks to other church organizations paying our bills when I was younger due to financial struggles when my father chose to leave and clear our bank account,” he said. “I knew, my life, I wasn't going to live it for me. I wasn’t going to live selfishly. I was always going to help the next person.”
It was proud day, however, for his mother.
“She was amazed,” Espejel said. “She could not stop saying how proud she was. She could not stop saying that. She couldn’t express how proud she was, because I was doing what I needed to do.”
This fall, Espejel plans to attend school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, while at the same time continuing to care for his mother.
“My first year, again, is going to be a struggle because I chose to live at home because I'm the only one that can drive, the only one who can take my mother to the doctors (appointments) she needs,” he said. “During the first year, we're going to be trying to get my sister driving to get things set up so I can fully indulge in college and have the college experience and life that is needed to develop as a person,”
So far, he’s unsure as to whether he wants to study psychology or pre-pharmaceutical, but he’s certain he will go into medicine.
“I've already prepared myself for how long the schooling may take,” Espejel said. “… My goal was always to go into medical for the people that I will see, to not be confused, to give them answers, to help them. Going the extra four to six years has already crossed my mind and I know I'm prepared for the long college journey that I have in getting a Ph.D.”
As he readies himself for college, Espejel is quick to give credit to his mother who inspired him to push through and pursue the lofty dreams he’s laid out.
“The only thing—I know I've expressed it a lot through this—that I just want to continue saying is my mother was my encouragement,” he said. “She helped me see how much people helped and no matter how bad things get you can always work toward the future, because she's never given up.”