SAN JOSE, Calif. - Fall commencement ceremonies were held at San Jose State University on Wednesday night. Among the graduates is a 22-year-old who is breaking barriers outside the classroom and on the race track.
This is the day years in the making for Jianna Salinas to accept her diploma from San Jose State University earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood development.
“I’m very excited,” said Salinas. “I’ve worked very hard for this for four and half years to finally be here in this building. It’s very surreal.”
It’s a dream come true for the San Jose native, who is a first generation student. Her parents could not afford college.
“Education is something they instilled in my sisters and I in a very young age,” said Salinas.
You may be surprised to learn she’s a professional motorcycle drag racer.
Last year, she won the National Hot Rod Association’s Professional Pro-stock Motorcycle Class race. Her father was in tears.
“I’ll be very honest,” said Salinas. “I had a one percent chance of winning the first round and I went up against four previous world champions and I took all of them out. I ended up on top at the end of the day.”
She’s the first Latina to race and win and the youngest female.
“The amount of struggle that I had in school and racing, I’ve always been told from a very young age, don't give up,” said Salinas.
Salinas comes from a racing family.
“She’s running a motorcycle that has 400 horse power and she's getting to 200 miles per hour in a quarter mile,” said Salinas.
Her parents couldn't be more proud. Salinas’s journey hasn't been easy.
“She really struggled,” said Mother Monica Salinas. “She has dyslexia. She wasn't diagnosed with that until she was a little older.”
She’s inspired her mother to go back to school. Her mother will be graduating in May from an online program at Harvard.
Salinas’s boyfriend, an Army lieutenant stationed in Japan couldn't be at the graduation ceremony but sent a video message.
“I just wanted to congratulate you on this special day,” said Lt. Eldrich Evaristo, Salinas’s boyfriend. “I’m so proud of you and can't wait to see what things you accomplish in the future.”
“You just have to believe in yourself because at the end of the day,” said Salinas. “You are capable of great things. You just have to believe.”
Salinas’s cap read, “There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise.”
She’s hoping to be a role model for other young girls and other minorities in the sport.
Salinas was originally accepted in the University’s engineering program. She switched majors hoping to make more of a difference.