By Joe Murchison

Jeraldin Espana
Jeraldin España

Laurel High School’s 2022 valedictorian says the graduation party her parents held for her in May was fun, and potentially more than fun; indeed, it may have pointed her toward a career.

Jeraldin España, 18, says she was talking at the party with the owners of the construction company where her father works. “They were telling me things were going to be more electrical as time goes on,” she said. 

Heading to the University of Maryland, College Park with a full scholarship, España said she will take prerequisite courses for the university’s engineering school, where she hopes to major in electrical engineering.

At Laurel High, España was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and finished with a 4.51 grade-point average. 

She grew up in Takoma Park and Hyattsville and went to Greenbelt Middle School, a magnet school where she was in a gifted and talented program. After considering the science and technology program at Eleanor Roosevelt High and the aerospace engineering curriculum at DuVal, España chose Laurel’s IB program, just as one of her two older sisters had. Both of her older sisters went on to study at College Park.

España’s mother immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, and her father came from Guatemala. Each had only a primary-school education. They met and married here. 

España said being a child of immigrants brought its share of challenges. She attended a gifted and talented program at Glenarden Woods Elementary, where most of the students seemed to come from more affluent families. She recalled being sensitive about whether her clothes made her look poor.

Her parents didn’t always understand her choices. “My mom had really conservative beliefs when she came over from El Salvador. … Women should be doing things in the house, taking care of their husbands, taking care of their children, learning how to cook. I didn’t want to get near the kitchen,” she noted. 

But they also influenced her success in school. “My dad made sure to reinforce the importance of doing well in school. He said, ‘If you do well in school, you’ll do well in life.’”

In middle school, España had an argument with another student about some now-forgotten issue; “he told me to go back to the border where I came from,” she recalled.

But España didn’t hear that kind of comment at Laurel High. “Laurel High is so diverse that you will rarely come across anyone who doesn’t like you. People are really accepting,” she said.