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News | Arts and Sciences | AlumniJanuary 26, 2023

Perseverance Pays Off for First-Generation Graduate

Written By: Antoinette Grajeda

Miguel Roque, UAFS class of ’22, knows the importance of working hard to overcome obstacles, and he’s used that skill to become a first-generation college graduate and military officer.

Born in Mexico City, Roque was raised by his grandparents while his parents lived in the United States. Because of paperwork issues, Roque was not granted residency until he was 14. He and his older brother then joined their mother in Fort Smith, but the transition was difficult, and Roque was made fun of because he couldn’t speak English. 

“I used to get bullied back whenever I got here, so I just wanted to go back to Mexico because it just felt really different,” he said.

The young immigrant gained a better grasp of the language by taking English as a Second Language classes. His high school counselor at Northside High School also helped him work on his English skills after school. 

“Not only that, but she was the one that basically was like, hey, you need to take this class, you need to take this class if you want to go to college,” he said.

Roque wasn’t sure he wanted to attend college, so when his brother, who was in the military, discussed the benefits of joining the Army, he joined JROTC — Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — to learn more. 

JROTC instructors noted Roque’s leadership skills and intelligence. They encouraged him to continue the program because it could lead to a college scholarship, which it did. Playing soccer at Northside also led to a scholarship offer from a Kansas college, but Roque chose to attend UAFS because of its ROTC program.  

“That was really difficult because I love soccer, but I’m not going to live off of soccer, and ROTC is something I really wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to become an officer.”

Additionally, Roque was glad he could stay close to his family by attending UAFS. He was also impressed by the campus’s diversity and said the university made minorities feel welcome.

“I think that’s very important that you feel welcome where you go because obviously college is already hard and stressful, but once you have that backup, that help from your teachers, faculty, friends kind of gives you a boost of motivation,” he said.

By participating in programs like ROTC, the Spanish Club, and the National Society of Leadership and Success, Roque could connect with campus community members.

“If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have made some of my friends that I have now, which I consider really close friends,” he said.

In May, Roque graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in military science. He was commissioned into the US Army that same day as a 2nd Lieutenant. His dream job is to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Agency. He wants to start gaining experience by working for the Fort Smith Police Department where he can help diversify their ranks. 

“It’s not very diverse, but I hope with what I have to offer, hopefully, it’s enough for me to make an impact within the community,” he said.

As a side job, Roque worked for a company that provides translation services for people applying for things like social security or disability benefits. The experience has inspired a backup plan for his career path. 

“If I don’t do this FBI route, I would really love to be a lawyer one day because I’ve seen firsthand — since I translate for the people — how it is to be an immigration lawyer, and I just really like how they do things, how they try to actually help people,” he said. 

No matter what the future holds, Roque is proud of his accomplishments thus far and credits his family for his success.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mom, but also my brother, who has been there for me since we were kids,” he said. “But mostly my mom…she sacrificed so much for me and him that I couldn’t be more thankful for it.” 

Roque was initially afraid to go to college because people told him it was a waste of time and money. He decided to go anyway and learned you can do anything you want if you work hard. 

“You will never know until you try, so for those people — especially minorities, Latinos, Hispanics — they need to at least try because they’ll never know,” he said. “Although it’s hard, if they stick to it, it’s all about perseverance, time management, just staying focused, and doing the right thing.”