Jenny Delos Santos overcame many challenges to get a higher education. She says people shouldn't have to do it alone.
By Jenny Delos Santos, Caroline Kunitake | Honolulu Civil Beat
Higher education and professional training are often out of reach for those less fortunate. The American Association of University Women Honolulu improves gender equity and economic security by offering local scholarships and grants to traditional and nontraditional female students.
Earlier this year, AAUW Honolulu invited Jenny Delos Santos to share her journey pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Jenny encourages anyone to pursue higher education/training to open up opportunities to better paying jobs. Read her message below.
When I was in high school, no one told me to go to college or the university. I was the third-highest student in a class of 500 to graduate, but no one encouraged me to seek higher education. I don’t think both of my parents even graduated from high school, and I had no role model to follow in their footsteps.
My mom told me, “You don’t have to go to college. You can work yourself way up the ladder.” As a result, I went to work at a clothing store in downtown Honolulu. After the summer of 1978, I applied at Bank of Hawaii and was first hired as a mail clerk and later transferred to the Visa Department. Not once did I ever think of going to night school to earn a degree.
My whole life changed in October 1987 when I left an abusive husband in California. I took Charles and Christina, my two toddlers, back to Hawaii. The first thing I did was apply for welfare benefits, including financial, food stamps and medical.
Since then the Welfare Department encouraged all clients to seek higher education in order to have a good job so that we could take care of our family without the state’s help. It was my goals and dreams that would carry us through all the obstacles and challenges of life. I decided I wanted to be an anchor on a news station, specifically for KGMB.
I was so happy attending Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaii Manoa. Many people helped my mentally ill children and me in any way they could. Many others thought I was crazy! Realistically I couldn’t meet my children’s need for support and their lives suffered as I pursued my degree. I loved the classes, especially political science and English. I even interned for the late Congressman K. Mark Takai just to get a grade and experience working in the Hawaii State Capitol.
In the summer of 2000, I finally graduated with my bachelor’s in journalism. I was elated to reach my ultimate dream. However, no one prepared me for what would happen after graduation. I had no role model, and I didn’t have anyone to ask questions. I also didn’t know that I had to search high and low for a job. I thought that it would be easy to get a job in local media and that anyone would want to hire me. I was wrong.
I ended up in an accounting firm instead of a newsroom. I got so depressed since I didn’t end up in my intended field of study. I went to school for almost a decade in order to earn my journalism degree. Depression and alcoholism became my best friend until I ended up in the psych ward. I eventually recovered. Two years later I landed a job at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as an editorial assistant. I wasn’t a reporter, but I was happy enough to get a job with the newspaper.
As my happiness slowly wore off, I realized I didn’t make enough money to take care of my children and myself. So, I tried to go to school at night; however, life got in the way and my daughter needed me. I had to abandon my educational pursuits and just be content with the job I had.
In late 2019, I lost Christina to an unexpected heart attack. Then in early 2020, Charles died of a heart attack and diabetic complications. One month after their funeral … for some strange reason, I lost my Honolulu Star-Advertiser job of nearly 17 years. “I lost everything!” For more than two years, I was trapped in my mind and sought professional help in order to think and act as a normal person.
After many suicide attempts, I have often wondered why I was left behind and didn’t follow my children to the grave. I now want to take free classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to improve my writing skills to develop inspirational stories of hope.
As I look back on my life, I wish someone had encouraged me to go to college when I was a junior or senior in high school. Maybe life would’ve been different and better.