Junior Danny Cerna-Nez had to drive almost straight from the hospital to Knox for Fall Term.
Her mother had gone in a few days before for abdominal pain. They thought it was bladder stones but the doctors found a mass. A few days after the start of Fall Term, they found out it was not just abdominal pain but pancreatic cancer.
Cerna-Nez’s mother had surgery in October. She was in the hospital until January due to complications following the first surgery.
“It was just a lot at once, we didn’t really know how to manage that emotionally, to be fair,” she said. “We come from the Latin culture, we’re Mexican, mental health is not something that is ever talked about.”
She found her family life too emotional and distracting to focus on school. Cerna-Nez withdrew from one class Fall Term and has an incomplete in another she plans to petition into a late withdraw. Her third class was a half-credit for being a T.A.
Over Winter Break, while her mom was still in the hospital, she and her family decided she should take a leave of absence and stay home to help care for her mom. Her father had already taken a month off of work and her sister works a full time job and runs a cleaning company on the weekend.
Now she plans to come back for Spring Term. With the added medical financial strain, she started a GoFundMe to help pay for the term.
She is still committed to coming back to Knox though.
“The community at Knox makes it really special for me, but also just my past experiences on campus,” she said.
Cerna-Nez is a psychology major and plans to go into social work, especially experiential education, after she graduates. She never would have found the career without having explored classes at Knox, as she came in her freshman year planning to do pre-med.
Her connection to experiential education is tied to her coming to Knox. She was introduced to both through the Schulers Scholars Program. She participated in the program from her sophomore year of high school and with it eventually applied to 18 different colleges, including Knox.
The program also helped her family find a sponsor who would help pay for Knox.
“They’re kind of the people who got me to this place,” she said.
The first summer after she joined Schulers, she went to a summer camp with the program. It was her first time being away from her parents for an extended period of time. It culminated in a four day camping trip without any communication with the outside world.
Beyond that experience, she also found more inspiration for leading at Knox.
“I went in thinking I wanted to do Bio, be pre-med, and then I realized what I really value is social work and interacting with people,” she said. “The leadership opportunities that I’ve had at Knox led to that.”
Cerna-Nez’s family had moved to the U.S. so she and her siblings could have better educational opportunities. Her parents had been business owners in Mexico, but decided moving would be better for their family.
“The main reason we basically packed up our lives and left a country where our entire family is there (…) was mostly to find better opportunities for my education and my siblings,” she said. “I’ve given up so much and I’ve worked so hard, I just want it to be worth it.”
She found out she was accepted while at an event.
“I left the event crying (É) systematically I wasn’t supposed to make it to college,” she said.
At Knox, Cerna-Nez found a support system that helped her. She is a first-generation student as well as immigrant and participated in SPARK. Having the time on campus and chance to make friends before the rest of the students arrived was a big help to her getting used to college.
When she put up the GoFundMe, she reached $1,000 in a day.
“Feeling that support from people, not necessarily financial aid but even things like if someone shared it or they messaged me saying that they’re there for me and I’m not alone (…) realizing that those people are there and I’m not alone, really helped,” she said.