Heritage: Summer 2021

Brenda Cruz-Flores and LaShawna Rhoden run toward each other to embrace during graduation at Bernard G. Johnson coliseum.

My First-Gen Journey: Brenda Cruz-Flores

A student's personal reflection

Although I am here today on the eve of my college graduation, there was a point in my life when this was just a mere illusion. I came to Sam Houston State University as a first-generation homeless student. Growing up in a low-income family, unable to maintain a stable household, we moved a lot. I went to many high schools and at the last one, I met an art teacher, LaShawna Rhoden, who told me I could go to college and become whatever I wanted.

I followed that ray of hope and took a giant leap of faith. Fortunately, SHSU did too. Although my test scores were low, I was given the opportunity to meet with the admissions committee and express why I should still be accepted. They decided to take a chance on me, because of my drive to be successful, to help others, and to break barriers in my family.

Brenda Cruz-Flores and LaShawna Rhoden.
Brenda Cruz-Flores (’21) with her high school art teacher and fellow Bearkat, LaShawna Rhoden (’99), who inspired her to go to college.

Ms. Rhoden, my art teacher, who never stopped encouraging me, was the one who dropped me off at my dorm when college finally started. It was then I told myself, “I got here because of her and the admissions committee, but I will stay here and succeed, because of my drive and hard work.”

Many departments at SHSU helped me with my college journey - Financial Aid, Registrar’s office, my First-Year experience course, the Forward program, and TRIO Student Support Services. I didn’t feel alone or scared thanks to these resources.

I was so excited to be at Sam to learn and grow as a person, student and professional. With no financial support from my family, I got a campus job to help pay my bills. It wasn’t easy finding the balance between school, work and social life, but it wasn’t impossible. When things got tough, I reminded myself how I got there, why I was there, and where I was going next.

One thing that helped me manage stress was volunteering. I started off doing it for myself, but later, I was able to use that experience to enhance my graduate school application. SHSU’s motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service,” is instilled in me.

As an SHSU student, I got to know myself and what I wanted in my life. This came with tears, laughs and making new friends. Coming to college opened up many doors for me, and I am thankful for the people who have helped me and continue to encourage me along the way.

For some of my peers, moving away from home was hard, but for me, it was an outlet, a new beginning, my beginning.

I am a first-generation, former homeless student, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in art. I am on my way to graduate school to pursue a degree in art therapy at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am so proud of myself and thankful to Sam Houston State University for this prosperous life I am living.