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In a cherished photo, Jasmine, right, is held by her mom.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Jasmine La Sage, who is student teaching at Emmeline Cook Elementary School in Oshkosh, reads to her students during daily “read aloud” time.

Jasmine La Sage is well aware of the challenges her family facedher grandparents worked as migrant workers and her mother raised her as a teen momto get her to the finish line at graduation.

La Sage, of Oshkosh, who is majoring in elementary education, will be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. She will be among the 1,300-plus University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students eligible to cross the stage at commencement Saturday.

 “My family is so excited,” La Sage said. “Education has always been important to my family, but they didn’t get the opportunities to achieve their educational goals.” 

Her grandparents, of Mexican descent, lived in Laredo, Texas, which borders Mexico. Her grandfather traveled a lot as an itinerant worker, and her grandmother had her first child at age 14 and another a couple years later. For years, her grandmother had come to Wisconsin to pick berries and work on farms as a seasonal worker, and after her second child, she decided to move the family to Menasha in 1987.  

Jasmine La Sage, right, receives a hug from her grandma.

 “My grandpa would always ask how I was doing in school because he didn’t get to live that,” La Sage said. “I think that is his way of living through me a bit.”  

 Her grandmother, her mom and the rest of her extended family have always encouraged La Sage to lean into education.

“My grandma became a mom at 14 years old, my mom at 17, my aunts were teen moms,” she said. “So it started from a young age that I was not to become a teen mom. I was to focus on school.” 

 Her family put her in every after-school activitygymnastics, softball, soccer, basketball, dance and cross country.

Kimberly Oamek

“I did everything,” La Sage said. “I had to be in sports because that would keep me out of trouble. It was always the standard that education was really important, and I was going to be the one to be the change for our family.” 

Kimberly Oamek, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Services at UWO, said she was moved by a poem and paper that La Sage had written in her class last semester. The students were asked to reflect on their cultural knowledge and to consider how these experiences shaped who they want to be as a teacher.

“(Jasmine) has demonstrated incredible perseverance during her time in the program and she is poised to make incredible contributions to education locally,” Oamek said. 

 In the reflections paper, La Sage wrote: “Being the first that has made it this far and will soon graduate college, there is and has been a huge weight on my shoulders. I have always felt like my family’s guinea pig, being the first to make these generational changes to make everyone proud. This puts so much pressure on someone, especially a young child. My family is proud that I am going into education and that I will be able to make the change in children’s lives, the change and the help they wish they could have received in school. I am proud of my culture, and I am always encouraged to learn about others. I understand different individuals face different barriers, but it is my job to help them feel more than those barriers.” 

La Sage, who has been student teaching at Emmeline Cook Elementary in Oshkosh since January, hopes that she lands a teaching position locally after graduation. But for now, her biggest concern is telling her proud family, who all want to attend her graduation, that she only has eight tickets to the ceremony.

“Yeah, we’re going to have some awkward conversations,” she said with a laugh. “But I know that a big piece of me graduating is them graduating with me.” 

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