Going the distance
The closest Jennifer Osorno-Bejarano ’12 came to giving up wasn’t when she moved to Greenville at the age of 15 unable to speak English.
Nor was it when she couldn’t graduate from high school until she turned 19, had to pay out-of-state tuition for college classes at Greenville Tech, or spend thousands of dollars and countless hours wading through the cumbersome immigration process.
No, the closest she came to throwing in the towel on her goal of earning a college degree was when she was faced with the prospect of losing something that meant even more.
“When my brother got a letter saying that he could either go wait for his papers down there or he would be out of status and deported if he overstayed, I basically wanted to quit,” Osorno-Bejarano said. “That was a very stressful time.”
The letter came from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and down there was his native Colombia, South America. Sebastian Osorno was a month from his own high school graduation when he had to move to a place he hadn’t been since he was 5, waiting to be granted residency in the United States.
Sebastian’s principal allowed him to graduate early, and Jennifer moved her wedding up so he could attend. There was little else the family could do, however, other than wait in limbo for a year while spending every spare penny they had on lawyers and plane tickets.
The hurdle turned out to be the last of many Osorno-Bejarano faced in her pursuit of four-year degree, but like the others she cleared it during an eight-year quest that culminated with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Business Administration from Furman.
Osorno-Bejarano moved to Greenville in 2000 and enrolled in the ninth grade in January, but because of language and credit issues she had to repeat the grade.
When she did graduate from high school, because her residency was not finalized, she was ineligible for in-state tuition, and the double-whammy of much-more-expensive classes and a pricey, protracted immigration process tested Osorno-Bejarano’s pocketbook as well as her patience. It also meant she had clear requirements for continuing her education, which Furman Undergraduate Evening Studies (UES) met.
“I have always worked full time, and I needed something in the evening,” she said. “Furman carried a strong reputation, but the evening program is more affordable . . . I went part time and full time, depending on the semester and how much I could afford.”
The program did more than offer Osorno-Bejarano convenient class times. There was also a personal touch she appreciated, especially from former UES director Brett Barclay. “You go through hard times, yes . . . Life happens. I had some semesters where I kind of wanted to give up, but he was my mentor, and he encouraged me not to quit.”
Like his sister and parents, Sebastian eventually was granted permanent residency, and he’s currently a student at the University of South Carolina. Osorno-Bejarano does the administrative work for the family business, and she says the degree has helped her grow professionally and manage a company while unexpectedly opening another door.
“Since I graduated a bunch of friends and I created an organization called LatinosUnited,” she said. “We go to high schools and we speak to students about the importance of higher education, the importance of graduating from high school, of getting a degree, of becoming an entrepreneur, serving the community . . . I’m on the board, and one of the requirements to serve on the board is that you have a degree.”
For more on Furman’s UES program, click here.