Son inspires Navajo woman to get college degree
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 12, 2007

Betty Reid

When Jennifer Leslie started college she formed a pact with her young son - life after a degree would allow them to spend more time together because she wouldn't have to juggle both school and work.

Leslie recalls telling 8-year-old Jordan, "when mom is done, we will get to ride bikes, go to the park and you can take karate lessons."

Friday, Jordan will be in the audience when his mom picks up her degree at a small ceremony at the Arizona State University West campus. Leslie is one of 93 Native American students graduating this fall, the largest number for a fall graduation.

The 37-year-old Navajo woman earned a bachelor's in criminal justice with a minor in women's studies and envisions a future as a victim's advocate, ideally at a state agency. Eventually, she dreams of returning to the Navajo Nation and helping women and children afflicted by domestic violence.

The single parent from central Phoenix credits Jordan with inspiring her academic journey that began in 2004. She wanted to provide a better life for him.

With words of encouragement from friends and family and despite difficulties along the way, Leslie completed college, while juggling childcare and working a full-time clerical job at Hospice of the Valley. Carolina Montes, a friend from Texas and employed by Texas Tech University, was among the friends who kept her motivated.

Montes and Leslie met as co-workers at Texas Workers Compensation Commission when Jordan was 2.

Montes saw Leslie struggle but also saw potential in her and told her a college degree would open doors.

"I told her, 'you can go back to school for your sake, but more for your son Jordan,"' Montes remembered Leslie as a being hard worker, self-motivated and good with computers. "I'm not surprised she finished," she said.

Leslie's pursuit of a college degree was no simple feat. Stress, pressure, deadlines, feelings of being overwhelmed and guilt about not spending time with her son nearly crashed her drive in 2006.

"I asked, 'Why am I doing this to myself?' At times like this, I would talk to my younger sister and I usually bounced stuff off her. She told me, 'You're almost done. Just keep going."'

Leslie is a member of the Navajo Nation but like many others, high unemployment drives many members off the reservation to pursue jobs and opportunities elsewhere. Leslie's parents joined that migration into Amarillo, Texas, from Houck in 1974. Leslie moved back to the Navajo Nation in 2000 and later moved to the Valley and enrolled at Glendale Community College where she received her associate's.

Her immediate plans after graduation include fulfilling that promise made to her son. Mom and Jordan will be at a Phoenix park Saturday. Her son plans to bring his bike.