Karolin Henrriquez, pictured here at a school event organized by the Spanish Club. Henrriquez graduates from Fremont High School on Saturday.

Karolin Henrriquez, 20, arrived in Fremont at age 17, after completing a long and trying journey from Honduras.

She and her siblings had made the trip on their own, arriving in the United States hungry and finding places to stay in refugee sanctuaries before finally meeting up with their mother, who had come to work in Fremont some time earlier.

The trip was challenging, Henrriquez told the Tribune through a translator. But the biggest challenge still lay before her: She would begin studying at Fremont High School, unfamiliar with the English language and balancing a full-time job to help support her family.

Saturday, Henrriquez’s journey through high school comes to a triumphant end, as she will join Fremont High School’s class of 2019 in collecting her high school diploma.

It’s an accomplishment that many told her she would never achieve, citing her age and her hefty work schedule, she said. But on Saturday, she proves them all wrong.

“It doesn’t matter how hard academically school can be,” she said, through a translator. “Just keep on going and you will do it and be successful.”

Henrriquez’s mother came to America in search of more economic opportunity for her family shortly after Henrriquez’s father died in a car crash. Some time after, Henrriquez and her siblings followed, seeking to escape violence in their home country.

In Fremont, Henrriquez encountered new challenges. She didn’t speak English — she recalls how even trying to purchase things became difficult, as she’d be unable to understand how much certain items cost. When she first started high school here, she was shy and had difficulties communicating. She struggled with classes like geometry.

Meanwhile, Henrriquez watched her mother struggle to pay the rent for their family of five, and she felt she needed to help.

When she was 18, in her first year at Fremont High, she took a job at Southwark Metal Manufacturing doing metalwork. It was a laborious 40-hour per week job — she’d start after school at 3:30 p.m. and leave at 12:30 a.m. By the time she’d showered and gotten everything ready for the next day, she often didn’t go to sleep until as late as 2 a.m., having to wake up at 6:15 a.m. for school.

She completed school assignments with what little time she could fit into lunch and other breaks. She’d often find herself drifting off during her first block of class — she’d splash some water in her face and keep going.

“It was really difficult to work and study,” she said.

The following year, she got a job with fewer hours at a Menards warehouse in Valley. And school got better as she became increasingly more familiar with English, she says.

And while balancing her work could still be challenging, her teachers say they never noticed it impairing her work ethic or attentiveness.

“Until she told me she was working that many hours outside of school, I never would have believed it because she showed up with her hair done, makeup done and dressed beautifully,” said Tina Cope, Henrriquez’s English teacher this past year.

Cope recalls how English was a particularly difficult class for Henrriquez, given the language barrier. But Cope describes Henrriquez as a “hardworking student” who “never gave up, never got frustrated.”

“For her thesis paper, she spent many many hours working outside of school just trying to make sure that she did it right,” Cope said. “She would ask questions. I mean, sometimes when kids have a language barrier, they don’t like to ask questions, and she most definitely was not scared to ask for help at all.”

In school, Henrriquez found a home in her English Language Learning (ELL) classes, where she was surrounded by others who were in the same situation as her. She began to take advantages of other resources in the school to help with her assignments.

Still, some, including those in her family, said that they doubted she’d finish high school. She started to believe them some time earlier this year when her mother lost her job. Henrriquez found herself tempted to leave school in order to pursue more work hours in order to help out around the house.

She ultimately decided to see it through, in part because of the role her mother played in encouraging her, telling her to do her best and to pursue whatever she wanted.

Now, her mom is excited to see the her graduate, Henrriquez said.

After graduation, Henrriquez hopes to pursue a career in nursing. When she was young, she remembers her father telling her that she would be “the best doctor for him.” And since then, it’s been a career she’s always wanted to pursue.

She’ll begin that journey with a high school diploma in hand.


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