We Are the Class of 2020 Telling our story, one graduate at a time.

Lesly Vasquez with flag outside a building

May 1, 2020


For Lesly Vasquez ’20M.Ed., earning a master’s degree in higher education is about more than building up her own experience. It is also about being a role model to younger members of her family.

“I pursued this field for my family -- specifically, for my nieces and nephews, to let them know that there are so many challenges in life, but it's all about persistence,” said Vasquez, the first in her family to pursue a master’s degree.

Vasquez plans to work at a nonprofit organization that supports black and brown youth social movements after graduation.

“The youth that are a part of these organizations, in most cases, are the ones who want to find and build more resources for future generations,” she said. “In terms of movement work, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the youth.”

Being a Mexican-American growing up in the South was a driving force behind Vasquez’s decision to seek a master’s degree in higher education.

“The work that I do is rooted in my being and my ancestors,” said Vasquez, an Asheboro, NC, native. “The South taught me to love my community in all forms. There are a lot of misconceptions about the South, and I've even had people question me when I tell them that I love this place, but how can I not, when it's given me hope? Being a Southerner and Mexican-American, I believe in the power of community.”

Indeed she does: Vasquez has been an active member of the UNCW community, serving as president of the Latinx Graduate Student Association, director of public awareness for the Lambda chapter of Chi Sigma Alpha and ambassador/co-coordinator for the American College Personnel Association. She also interned with the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, where she led emotional intelligence workshops.

“Several people have told me that I allow them to see leadership in a new light,” Vasquez said. “I teach what I believe, and I believe that leadership is an act of healing; you're constantly persisting for change in you and others. It can be a beautiful, chaotic mess.”

Vasquez quoted a writer when asked what advice she would give fellow Seahawks.

“Audre Lorde said it best: ‘Without community, there is no liberation.’ We find the best parts of ourselves with the people that trust and cherish our existence in all ways that are authentic,” she said. “So, find those that care for you and dive into your field in the best ways you know possible. Most of all, take risks. At the end of the day, the community that knows and loves you will hold you through each challenge.”


-- Venita Jenkins