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The Tongva Times

The Tongva Times

The Tongva Times

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Jacqueline Borja leaves Eagles’ nest, soars to new educational heights

Brian Ly
Borja poses in front of the world map in her office, surrounded by a plethora of postcards she’s gathered over the years from past and current students.

   “Are you busy?” is a phrase counselors hear daily working with students, and one Jacqueline Borja is particularly fond of because it always means an opportunity to connect with her caseload. Providing her students guidance for the past 28 years at Gabrielino High School has been the focal point of her passion for counseling. Though Gabrielino is saying goodbye to Borja as the retiring counselor strives for new heights and opportunities, her goal has remained constant: helping students. 

   Walking into Borja’s office, it is difficult to imagine her in a career that is anything but counseling. Motivational messages and quotes fill the room from her desk to the walls, with gifts and letters from previous students proudly displayed too. A large world map dominates the left wall of her office, surrounded by countless postcards from every place imaginable. The map is part of her message of encouragement for students to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. 

   “I had the great opportunity to take a semester off to take business courses in Japan. I want students to find their strength in something they want to do,” Borja explained. “To let them realize ‘this is what I want to do’ and to make sure they’re not defined by their grades or test scores.” 

   Undeniably, her time at Gabrielino has been essential to supporting students, and though it is a job Borja takes great pride in, it was not her original career path. Originally majoring in political science at Loyola Marymount University, Borja switched her major to Asian-Pacific studies. She developed an interest in law when she was studying abroad in Japan, leading her to an internship at a Fortune 500 company to gain experience in the field. 

   “I decided I didn’t want to work for corporate law,” said Borja. “I was trying to figure things out. At the same time, Schurr High School, my alma mater, was getting rid of their college counseling positions due to budget cuts. I wrote a letter expressing how important it was for students to get the guidance they needed. It hit me, I’d be willing to do this on my own time.”

   Borja’s calling into counseling would be aided by Loyola Marymount, where she returned for a master’s program in counseling education. Upon completion in a year and a half, Borja earned her counseling hours interning at Waite Middle School in Norwalk. 

   “It was really eye-opening seeing the issues that these kids were going through broke my assumptions that everyone grew up the way I did,” Borja noted. “We took kids who were ‘at risk,’ we call them ‘at promise’ now, to a juvenile prison program. Not to scare them straight, but to have them speak with juvenile inmates. I asked to volunteer for this program. Amazing experience, one of the best I’ve had getting to work with the kids and learning about their lives.” 

   Ever since, Borja found her second home at Gabrielino. Her educational journey, one full of different pathways and opportunities, is an example she uses for students who are unsure of what they want to do with their future. 

   “I often tell my students that they won’t know what they really really want to do until they’re a bit older,” Borja said with a small laugh. “And that’s okay. There’s time to try out new things that maybe they didn’t know existed outside of Gab. I tell students to do what they enjoy doing, to not chase after the money, because their passion is needed to make sure they enjoy their job. It helps them grow and develop when they love doing what they do.”

   Borja’s passion for counseling has never waned over the years, even during years when she was not actively counseling students due to personal reasons. 

   “I stepped out for one year, and it’s a lot coming back in when everyone might be doing things differently,” Borja explained, her words strongly emotional as she is moved to tears. “I remember the first time a student walked through the door when I came back, and I remember the excitement. You’re connecting with the students, and I’m not necessarily teaching anything, but we’re sharing the pivotal moments of our lives. I admire you guys, I’m inspired. It’s the greatest thing about being a counselor, it’s something I’m gonna miss.”

   But retirement from counseling is not the end of Borja’s foray into learning, rather a step towards new opportunities. Fifteen years ago, Borja completed her doctoral classes but never completed her dissertation as life got busy and she achieved other dreams. Now, the opportunity to finish her dissertation presented itself to her when she was reinstated at Claremont Graduate University after meeting with an old mentor and professor.
  “I’m stepping back into academia, and I was constantly thinking if I was doing the right thing like, ‘Oh my god!’” Borja exclaimed, nervous fervor in her voice. “But people were just so helpful, and I was getting to know people. I started my class in August, jumped right into it, and I just loved it. I loved the learning process, but I was also trying to balance full-time work with these classes. Things happen for a reason, and I figured it was time to retire.” 

   Still, as Borja described in her letter announcing her retirement, she is Gabrielino’s “forever counselor”. Though her presence will be missed and fondly remembered, Borja is moving forward to do more of the things she is deeply passionate about. She would want nothing more than for students to do the same. 

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About the Contributor
Brian Ly
Brian Ly, Production Chief
Brian Ly is the Production Chief for the Tongva Times and is entering his fourth year with the paper. In his personal life, Brian has a keen interest in insects, collectible card games, books, and movies. He even aspires to raise his own "Gregor Samsas" when he finds the right environment. Interestingly, Brian initially joined the newspaper in his freshman year, mistaking it for a history class due to the presence of a textbook. Despite the unexpected start, he remained with the Tongva Times, drawn by the strong sense of community and the chance to interact with diverse individuals, from school athletes to the mayor of San Gabriel.
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