Faces of JAG: Celina's Story


“I would constantly visualize what I wanted my life to look like in the future.”

Celina’s first years of life were a struggle. At a young age, Celina and her mother fled to the United States seeking a better life after enduring years of abuse. “My mom and I went through a situation of domestic violence with her husband,”
Celina recalls, “We had to escape to a shelter as soon as we could.”
Celina says she doesn’t let her past define her as a person anymore. “That experience truly showed me how much strength and perseverance I have,” she said. When she first arrived to the U.S., Celina didn’t speak English but she didn’t let that deter her from focusing on getting her life back. She focused her efforts to learning English and finding out where she fit in at school. “I would constantly visualize what I wanted my life to look like in the future,” she said. “Successful and fearless were the main things I aspired to be.” Celina says she’s proud of how far she and her mother have come, “My mom and I have overcome that part of our lives, which makes me so proud to say.”
Celina graduated from Coronado High School in 2017 and started community college. She said her mom became inspired by how much she was able to achieve in school so her mother decided to go back to school. “When I became more independent, she took it upon herself to continue her own education.” Although it hasn’t been an easy road, she says she owes a lot to her mother who supported her through everything. “It fills my heart with joy that we were able to move on from that situation and grow individually.”


Celina believes her experiences in JAG helped her to evolve into the person she is today. “I always look back at my experiences [in JAG] and feel empowered to know I am growing as a leader.”

When Celina entered high school she was scared and didn’t know what the future held for her. “I used to overwhelm myself about the uncertainty,” she says. “I wanted to work, drive, go to college and those things seemed impossible to achieve…” 
Celina felt as if she was a non-existent person in this new country. Then… she joined JAG.

It was her junior year of high school when Celina first walked into Coordinator Wendy Paez’ JAG classroom. “I was feeling very insecure since I was still new to that high school,” she says remembering her first day. “I was so afraid to be alone.” After a few short weeks in JAG, Celina made more friends than she expected and her fear faded when she realized she was not alone.
“The two years I was in Mrs. Paez’ classroom, I picked up on her joyous and honest energy,” Celina said of her Coordinator. “She put a lot of trust in me because she always believed I had the potential to be a great leader.” During her time in JAG, Mrs. Paez encouraged Celina to get involved in her Career Association activities including community-service to help Celina uncover her unique skills and passion. She says her Coordinator always presented every opportunity in an exciting and inviting way and provided her the support and guidance she needed to help her succeed in her education, career preparation and life after high school. “She is the true definition of a leader. She was always available to me and the other students and truly cared for us.”
After graduation, Celina knew the importance of having mentors to help support her through her educational journey. “I don’t think it would have been as easy for me to make new connections if it wasn’t for JAG teaching me how to seek opportunities like this.” She believes mentorship is something all students should have access to. “I was blessed to make connections that have helped keep me on track and make me feel supported.” She said she will always be grateful to the JAG organization for continuing to give students a family and the hope they need to keep striving for more. “I truly love and admire this organization and I know we need more programs like this.”

She says her JAG activities were very important to her and she took every assignment and competition seriously, “…because I knew it was the best practice I would get before entering the adult world after high school and I was right.” Through JAG, Celina learned and practiced core work readiness competencies, was able to identify her career goals and strengthen that relevance to her academic courses. She participated in project-based learning through her youth-led Career Association, exploring career interests, engaging with employers and community partners, and by giving back through community service hours. “Also, I did a lot of public speaking which helped me better articulate my vocabulary. This gave me the confidence to be outspoken in my classes when I transitioned to college,” she said.


Celina says the most important lesson she learned from her JAG Coordinator, Mrs. Paez, was to simply be herself. “Ms. Paez is always unapologetically herself and that is why everybody loves and admires her. Her authentic self and transparency – with lots of humor – were the perfect combination to inspire many of us.”
Coronado High School


Today, Celina is working on her career path she developed in JAG. She was recently accepted to the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University and will begin classes this fall. “I cannot picture myself being in a different field. I chose Global Management because I have always known that business is where I am meant to be.” She recently earned three scholarships and says the financial support has helped her to continue her dreams of obtaining her bachelor’s degree. “I became an excellent student, a skilled worker in the research field and continued to perfect my English.” Celina said. Although she has not accomplished all of her goals yet she is grateful to be living out her dreams and is ready to strive for more. “It is truly an honor to me that I will have this opportunity transitioning from college to university. All the hard work and determination is paying off and I am ready, not only to complete my education, but to create professional connections that will land me in a good position after I graduate.”


In her words… I believe today, more than ever, that anyone can achieve what they want. All that is needed is to really want it. That is how it becomes a priority. I did not make excuses about my financial obstacles or legal status to stop pursuing what I wanted.

I will continue to help other JAG students as I continue with my journey to success. I have been planning to go back to the JAG classroom where I learned so much about myself and be a guest speaker for the current students. I also want to give back in the future when I am a successful businesswoman funding my own scholarship for Coronado JAG to help students chase their dreams.


Celina has worked incredibly hard since graduation. A two-time Ken Smith Scholar, she has excelled in her education at ASU. Just recently, Celina earned a placement in the Arizona State University Next Generation Service Corps, which will cover all of her tuition for the remaining years of study in Global Management at ASU's Thunderbird School. NGSC is a leadership development program where students study their chosen major, engage in practical elements of leadership, learn cross sector collaboration and take summer internships (national and internationally) working on real issues in public, private and non-profit sectors. Celina will go on to do great things in our community!

“JAG was the foundation for my professional skills and confidence. This program is responsible for shaping me into the professional that I am today. I have so much gratitude for what JAG did for me.” – Celina 2020 Scholarship Essay
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