When Yadira Beltran was in high school, she dreamed of attending Saint Mary's College. Her twin sister, Jessica, wasn't really interested in the school. After, all, twins don't always think alike.
But then, Jessica accompanied her sister on a visit to check out the SMC campus and fell in love. "I was drawn by the commitment to service that I saw in the programs and the curriculum," she said.
By the time they graduated this spring, both twins had made their mark on the College—and beyond.
Yadira, who studied in the Liberal & Civic Studies and Teachers for Tomorrow programs, volunteered with the Jumpstart program, teaching literacy skills to children in struggling West Oakland schools, and tutored children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, during a study-abroad class.
On top of that, she spends her Saturdays volunteering with What Now America, a drop-in center in Oakland, in its SLAM program, which brings science, language, art and math instruction to innercity children.
Jessica, who was drawn to social work and advocacy, has put the organizing skills she learned in the classroom—and her abundance of energy—to work coordinating an English as a Second Language program for employees at Saint Mary's. In her sophomore and junior years, she paired up students with Spanish-speaking workers, including SMC's groundskeepers and dining hall workers, for 30-minute conversation sessions twice a week to improve their English skills.
The work "gives meaning to life," she said. "It redefined what success means to me. It's great to know that you're doing everything you can to your ability to live up to the College's mission."
In her senior year, she took what she had learned beyond the walls of Saint Mary's and helped set up an ESL program for the mothers of children in St. Martin de Porres School in Oakland.
During a panel discussion earlier this year on social justice, Jessica summed up what drives her: "When you find that passion and cause that calls to you—that you can't walk away from because it would be wrong to do so—that's when you know you've found your call and your passion," she said.
And how did the twin sisters get along during their four years at Saint Mary's? Jessica smiles and says, "We're best friends."