Graduate Spotlight: Jesse Cervantes

Graduate Spotlight: Jesse Cervantes

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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 suites, 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.

“I graduated from Phyllis Wheatley HS, San Antonio, Texas in 1980. My family income was average but not quite what was really needed to put me through college. But because of my athletic abilities, my future remained very promising because I received several football scholarships to attend various colleges. After some consideration I decided to attend Texas Lutheran College where I played football while attending college. Towards the end of the football season I suffered a knee injury during practice that required surgery. I quickly realized that my football career was pretty much over so I started to look for alternate avenues. Not long after my knee surgery I came across a college flyer with several job openings. One just happened to be back home in San Antonio, which was with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. It was a long shot but I had to try.

I applied in January of 1981 and was accepted for an operator position which was just a few miles from my parent’s home. Things were really looking up for me at this point but my desire to attend college was really never out of my system. One day while looking for ways to attend college I found a Southwestern Bell manual that stated that if I were to join the military full time that the company would provide me with a leave of absence for a period of 4 years. This meant I could get a GI bill (money I needed for school), attend college while in the military, and my Southwestern Bell job would be waiting for me after completing my military service.

In 1982, only after working for Southwestern Bell for a little over a year and a half, I joined the United States Marine Corps where I served as a Military Police and later became a Marine Barracks Sniper. I received an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps in 1985. I then returned back to Southwestern Bell, now AT&T, and continued my job as a telephone operator.

With the money I saved from the Marine Corps I immediately enrolled at the South Hallmark campus. I graduated from the North Campus in 1986 with an Associate’s Degree in Electronics Technology. I was also the class valedictorian and received a 4.0 GPA.

Because of the eagerness to continue to excel I applied for an AT&T job in Oakland, California, as a network technician. Another long shot, but I remembered standing in a line that was a hundred strong and because I was not really dressed for the occasion I almost stepped out of the interviewing line. It was at that time that I remembered what I had heard during my graduation from Hallmark founder Mr. Richard Fessler. Mr. Fessler told a story about two two frogs that jumped into two different milk containers and were unable to successfully get out. Although one of the frogs decided to quit and drowned, the other frog never quit paddling and eventually got out as the milk turned into butter. So NEVER QUIT is what I did. I stayed in that hiring line and eventually I was interviewed. To this day I remember the very first question that I was asked by my interviewer. He said, “Did you really graduate with a 4.0 GPA?” So, getting a good GPA really does pay off and I strongly believe that the reason I got the job was because of that. The hiring manager said that this was exactly what he was looking for, someone with ambition.

I also remember something else Mr. Richard Fessler said during my graduation; “Now that you all have graduated do not to expect a lot of companies to be knocking at your door, it’s up to you to go out and find that job that you are looking for,” which is exactly what I did. I chased many job promotional opportunities within AT&T for several years, no matter where they were located. I have worked and lived from coast to coast while working for AT&T. I also managed to pick up my Bachelor’s Degree in Computers Information Systems along the way while working full time for AT&T.

I am presently working for AT&T as a Professional Network Support Manager in the DFW area. In the 36 plus years of working for Southwestern Bell/AT&T I have learned to work with many different types of equipment for troubleshooting as well as learned how to work on routers, switches, servers, and more. I also received the education and certifications needed to professionally manage these routers, switches, and servers.

In closing, my turning point with my company was getting that associates degree back in 1986. Back in the 80’s an associate’s degree was all you really needed as the technology was not yet fully developed. Today that has changed considerably in the IT field and a BS in whatever field you wish to pursue is really needed for many large companies. Getting a high GPA is also very important for many hiring managers. To me and my hiring managers this speaks volumes as to who the interviewee really is.

To all Hallmark students, good luck in pursuing your goals and please don’t quit. I made it and I am willing to bet you can too. My biggest obstacle in pursuing my degree was money and I found a way. So don’t let that (money) deter you from getting your degree. My hope is that maybe after retiring from AT&T that I can become an instructor for Hallmark University and maybe give back some of what Hallmark gave me to the students.”
-Jesse Cervantes, Hallmark University class of 1986. Associate of Applied Science in Electronics Technology.

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