Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia’s 2018 graduates.

When Genesis Estrada, PharmD, approaches the podium as the student speaker at Concordia University Wisconsin’s graduate commencement ceremony on Friday evening, May 18, she will represent the Doctor of Pharmacy class of 2018, the faith of faculty and staff who believed in her, a company who took a chance on her when she was just a teenager, and a family legacy of determination.

As the only child in a single-parent home, Estrada knows so much about grit that she is dedicating her speech to the subject. Her mother, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina and primarily speaks Spanish, persevered by working long hours, often overnight, so that Estrada could live in a safe home in a good school district. With her mother working so often, Estrada’s grandparents, who lived in the same apartment complex, were steadfast in their care and support, so that she could focus on her schoolwork.

“I can never repay my mom for all of the sacrifices she made for me,” says Estrada. “The only way I can come remotely close is to make her proud of me. My accomplishments are her accomplishments. When I graduate, it’s her graduation.”

Estrada attended a public high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin that offered a unique medical track. She and her classmates were exposed to different health professions through modified coursework, field experience, and certification opportunities so one day they might consider pursuing careers in the medical profession. At 16 years old, Estrada was placed as a pharmacy technician in the local Walgreen’s, a seemingly serendipitous placement that would prove to be one of many blessings in Estrada’s journey.

“Retail pharmacists are a valuable part of the community,” says Estrada. “What I saw growing up with the company was how relationship-driven these pharmacists were, and I wanted to be like them in my future.” She goes on to explain that her early Walgreen’s mentors did so much more than dispense medication. They routinely interacted with insurance companies, intervened in medication management, and took the time to know their customers so that they could help them live better lives. Their caring approach left a lasting impression on Estrada.

Upon graduation from high school, Estrada went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. As a first generation college student, that transition from high school to college was more challenging than she expected. Estrada struggled with grades for the first time in her life and had no one to turn to for guidance. She was put on academic probation and started to doubt her future as a pharmacist. Despite her doubts, she felt at home among the retail pharmacists within the Walgreen’s stores she worked in while in Madison and was compelled to stay the course.

Fortunately, things changed her junior year. As she describes it, “a light bulb went off,” and she dedicated herself to turning her academic trajectory around so she could actualize her calling as a pharmacist.

From that moment on, Estrada earned straight As, but it wasn’t enough to accumulate the grade point average necessary for pharmacy school. She applied to Concordia University Wisconsin anyway, which turned into another blessing along her path.

“As soon as I met the admissions committee, it was Concordia all the way,” says Estrada. “I felt like I was home.” She found the faculty and staff to be warm, compassionate people who could look beyond her grades and see her potential as a pharmacist. She was admitted to the program because Concordia’s process takes the time to consider the potential of the whole person, not just the data.

Estrada notes that the caring, personal treatment she experienced as an applicant remained palpable throughout her entire Concordia career.

Upon graduation, Estrada will remain with Walgreen’s, the company she describes as “having grown up with.” She will continue to work under licensed pharmacists until she applies for her own license later this summer. As a bilingual pharmacist, she looks forward to serving community members who might have felt underserved in the past.

Estrada will stand alone at the commencement podium on Friday night in front of 3,000 guests. Her short speech about the grit and perseverance it takes to get through pharmacy school will actually be an epic tale of an immigrant family, a single mother, a loyal company, a visionary school, and a grateful daughter—a tale that is only getting started.

— Lisa Liljegren is vice president of marketing and strategic communications.

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