In 1980, Jesse Cervantes graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School. As an accomplished football player, he received a scholarship to attend Texas Lutheran College. Not long into his college football career, Jesse suffered from an injury that severely damaged one of his knees. Due to this injury, he was forced to quit athletics and pursue an immediate career.
It was during this pursuit that he noticed a job listing by Southwestern Bell. He interviewed for the listing and was hired immediately as a full-time operator. Although grateful to be employed, his ambitions quickly pushed him to seek a higher position within the company. It was at this time that he was told by his manager, “You’ll never move up unless you finish college and get your degree.” As a full time working professional, and without the necessary funds for higher education, he began looking for options to help him accomplish his goals. His solution became the military.
For employees who join the military, Southwestern Bell had a policy which allowed for positions to be held for up to four years without compensation. Jesse opted for this policy, joined the United States Marine Corps in 1981, and thus began the process of funding his college education. By 1985, he had completed his term in the Corps and began attending Hallmark University (known at the time as Hallmark Aero-Tech). It was at Hallmark that he earned his degree and graduated in 1986 as valedictorian with a 4.0-grade point average. At his graduation ceremony, Hallmark founder Richard Fessler shared a story that stuck with Jesse for the rest of his life. The “frog story.”
In the frog story, two frogs jump into a barrel of milk and cannot jump out. Each facing the same circumstances, one frog decides to concede to his situation and drowns in the milk. The other frog (Ralph) keeps moving, not knowing exactly what he’s doing, but refusing to give up. Eventually, Ralph is able to stand and jump out of the bowl. The reason; his continuous movement and refusal to give up had churned the milk to butter which provided something solid from which he could stand and jump out of the bowl. “Don’t quit” Jesse recalls Fessler saying.
After graduation from Hallmark, Jesse decided to apply for a new position at ATT. When he arrived at the application location, he entered a line of approximately 100 people. Noticing that the other applicants were wearing suits, ties, and looking the part of executives, he felt underdressed. Jesse had dressed in his most professional attire at the time; blue jeans and a tucked-in shirt. As he looked ahead at the polished professionals applying for the same job, he began to doubt.
Battling with himself as to whether he should remain in line or leave to not have to endure the rejection sure to come, the “frog story” came to mind. Jesse remembered the words of his graduation’s commencement speaker, “don’t quit”, and began to ask himself if he was going to give up or keep fighting for what he wanted. He stayed in line.
When it was his turn to appear before the interviewer, he was asked, “Did you graduate with a 4.0?” From there, the interviewer assessed Jesse’s knowledge on the subject of information technology. Once the interview was complete, Jesse felt accomplished for having stayed in line but assumed he would not be getting the position.
Not long after, a representative from ATT placed a call to Jesse’s home and left a message. Jesse returned the phone call to find out that he was being offered the position for which he applied. Jesse accepted and has worked at ATT for 36 years to date. When asked about his successes, Jesse says, “Determination is a big factor. I always tell my kids that “what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.” This has always been something by which I try to live.” In regards to his long-standing employment with ATT, Jesse stated, “Without my degree from Hallmark I would have never received that job. And, I’ll never forget standing in that interview line, wanting to walk away, and then remembering the frog story that Mr. Fessler shared. “Don’t quit,” I heard in my head, and I’m so glad that I didn’t.”
-Jesse Cervantes, Hallmark University class of 1986. Associate of Applied Science in Electronics Technology.