By: Tedi Rountree
June 23, 2015

Juliana Speer

Number 25, June 23, 2015

Juliana Speer ’17 is one of the first members of a new campus organization, Español de la Costa, that is dedicated to familiarizing College students and the community with Hispanic culture. The club is not language-specific, but rather, culture-specific – the holidays, traditional customs, and family values that serve as a framework for millions of people. And they are inviting the community, both on and off campus, to enjoy the fun.

One of the first events the club sponsored was a “Day of the Dead” festival.  “Dia de Muertos is not about zombies or Halloween,” she stressed. “It’s a huge event, when families remember and honor their ancestors who have died, symbolically represented by skulls and marigolds and special foods.”

The November date now recognized globally coincides with the Catholic Church festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ days.

In her family, Mardi Gras, Day of the Dead, birthdays, and Quinceañera (sweet fifteen) are major events for celebration. “Quinceañera is the coming-out event for a teenage girl,” she explained. “The family throws a big party, fathers and daughters dance, and girls switch to high heels to signify they are now young women.”

Speer was introduced to many of the customs through her mother’s extended family. “I was born in Georgia, but my family moved to Galveston, Texas when I was in second grade so that I would really know my mom’s side of the family. Latino families are extensive and very close-knit. The family is the community, literally. I would talk about my new friend at school and my mom would explain that the person was one of my cousins. I was related to everybody, it seemed, and it was interesting to see how big my family is.”

Her immediate family moved back to Georgia (Atlanta) when she was in 7th grade, returning to her father’s roots and staying there through her high school years. She graduated from Henry County High School in 2013.

She chose College of Coastal Georgia for several reasons. “For one, they are the only college that offered both a culinary arts and a criminal justice program, and in high school I was passionate about both and wanted the option to study both. I loved living on the coast when we were in Galveston, so Coastal Georgia offered that as well as being five hours away but still in state. That allowed me to go home for holidays and other special occasions while still having a sense of independence and adventure.”

She also liked that the school was a new baccalaureate state college. “That meant we would grow together and I could contribute in a meaningful way. And I liked the size of the College, with small classes and the promise of one-on-one interaction with my professors.”

The College met her expectations and actually exceeded them. “I was excited to be so far away from home and it was my time to prove myself. I wanted the full college experience and CCGA has been doing that for me. I’m involved on campus. I originally thought I would transfer to another school for my junior and senior years, but I’m not going to. Now I don’t want to move to a large university until graduate school and CCGA is teaching me what I need to know to succeed there. I‘m not just a number and a face. If I miss a class, my professor will e-mail me to make sure I’m not sick or something. The faculty and staff know my name. I feel like I belong here – this is my school.”

Her campus activities, in addition to Español de la Costa, include serving as an orientation leader for freshmen and transfer students, as the photographer for Overboard Entertainment, as the new Vice President for the Student Government Association, as a player in the Urban Gaming Club, and as a participant in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. “I am a Catholic, as is another friend, and we regularly participate in the Bible studies. I know from my own experience that BCM welcomes all denominations.” She added, “Faith is another important, uniting value in the Hispanic community.”

Speer is also a first-generation college student. “So my experience is a new experience for my family. I wanted something more. I wanted an education. My family would always say that I’m going to grow up to be a lawyer because I love to argue, and of course I had to argue against that,” she laughed.

“My long-term goal is law school and practicing criminal law. Eventually I want a career with the FBI, studying criminal behavior. I want to know why criminals do what they do, but I also have a passion for the trial presentation process – that’s what excites me,” she said.

Her great-grandmother, Bernice “Bunny” Stern, established a college fund for her, but she died before seeing her great-granddaughter achieve her degree. “She believed in my dreams, I appreciate the College Foundation’s belief in me, too,” she added. Last year they awarded her a Camden County Deputy Sheriff’s Memorial Endowment Scholarship and she is hoping she’ll receive additional financial assistance this year.

“I know what I want and I am determined to get it,” she concluded. “College of Coastal Georgia makes me proud to be a Mariner.”