Jessica Dennis graduated from Holyoke High School nearly 20 years ago. Now a nursing student at Holyoke Community College, she returned to her old high school today to encourage sophomores there to do what she did - continue her education at a public college or university.
"You can do it," she said.
Dennis talked to students during a "Go Public!" event Wednesday at Holyoke High sponsored by the Massachusetts Dept. of Higher Education. She was one of six students now attending local public colleges and universities to tell their story in hopes of inspiring high school sophomores to study hard, stay in school and go to college.
Dennis first attended HCC right after graduating from Holyoke High School but dropped out after a year.
"I didn't think it was my time," she said, "and then I just started working and got married and had kids."
Over the years, she began taking one class a semester on her way to an associate degree in science in 2011. She then entered HCC's registered nursing program and will graduate in May 2014.
After earning her associate degree in nursing she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing, perhaps at the University of Massachusetts. Her eldest son is now a student at UMass-Dartmouth.
Dennis said she doesn't know yet what kind of nurse she wants to be but ultimately she wants to work in Holyoke, her hometown.
"Furthering your education opens up so many doors," she said. "Being in the nursing field and being bilingual, I feel like I can help my community."
HCC nursing instructors were also at Wednesday's "Go Public!" event, demonstrating the medical mannequins used by nursing students in the HCC SimU Center.
Photos: (Left) Jessica Dennis talks to students at Holyoke High School during a "Go Public!" event sponsored by the Mass. Dept. of Higher Education. (Right) A Holyoke High School student checks the pulse on a medical mannequin borrowed from the HCC SimU Center.