COLLEGE STATION --
Texas A&M University graduate Jessica Cuccio would be the first to tell people not to let anything prevent them from achieving their goals. However, in her case, actions speak far louder than words.
On Friday (Dec. 12), Cuccio can formally check a major goal off her lifelong list -- her undergraduate degree in chemistry, one motivated in part by her twin brother, Jason.
Friday's diploma marks the second earned in the past year for Cuccio, 24, who received her initial degree -- a bachelor of science in kinesiology -- from Texas A&M in 2007. Along the way, she had accumulated nearly enough credit hours to earn a second degree in chemistry but opted to take some time off before applying to physician's assistant school.
In between taking classes and completing other chemistry degree requirements during the past year, Cuccio has balanced helping care for Jason, who was diagnosed with profound autism, as well as her youngest brother Joshua, who emerged from an extended coma and is now fully recovered after being involved in a near-fatal traffic accident in February.
Although the balancing act admittedly proved challenging at times, Cuccio says she maintained equilibrium by focusing on a simple personal philosophy.
"If you work at something enough and you are persistent enough, you can make it," she says.
Cuccio says chemistry is a study that has played a big role in her life because of Jason.
"I've wanted to be involved in medicine since I was little," Cuccio explains. "I was always exposed to medicine growing up, first with Jason and later through volunteering and shadowing experiences. Being able to make a difference and help others places me in my element."
As she grew older, Cuccio found herself playing a progressively proactive role in Jason's care. Although her parents are still Jason's primary guardians, she has increasingly developed more of a voice in the decision-making for Jason's well-being, or what she describes as "an active role" in what's going on with him.
Jason, who does not possess the ability to speak, currently resides in The Village in Kingwood, a facility better suited to meet his needs that offers different programs designed to help him with social skills. Despite her school work and extracurricular activities, Cuccio says she enjoyed taking the time whenever she could to visit Jason, someone she has been very close with since the beginning.
"It makes it tough, but I try to go to his programs or visit him whenever I can," she explains. "It's important to me, and when something's important to me, I get it done.
"There's a lot that goes into helping Jason, and it can be stressful, but it's never affected me academically. I still enjoyed school and my friends."
Things got somewhat tougher this past winter when her youngest brother Joshua was involved in a collision with another vehicle while he was on a moped. Joshua was in a coma for nearly a month, and Cuccio took the time away from Texas A&M to be by his side.
"He pulled through, and everything is OK now," she notes.
As tough as it may be balancing family affairs with college and a social life, Cuccio says it seems natural. After graduating in the top 2 percent of her senior class at Port Neches-Groves High School with summa cum laude honors, Cuccio made the Dean's List and was a distinguished student in the Texas A&M College of Education & Human Development in 2006. In addition, she was an executive officer for the Alpha Delta Pi sorority and was involved with Sports for Kids, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for physically and emotionally challenged children.
Cuccio credits Jason with inspiring her to keep pushing forward and being the best she can be, both academically and as a person.
"He goes through these programs and is doing excellent -- it's really great," she says. "He is an inspiration to me. I've chosen some of the paths I have because of him. It sounds hokey, but he is my guiding light."
In addition to Jason as her inspiration, Cuccio says her family is an invaluable support system.
"My parents were instrumental in my success," she adds. "They encouraged me and instilled in me the values that have helped me to choose and achieve my dreams. As a result of their support and the education I've obtained at Texas A&M, I possess the tools to take my next steps toward the medical career of my dreams."
For Cuccio, the next step in the dream is physician's assistant school. She currently is applying and interviewing at a variety of schools in California, New York, and Texas.
Although Cuccio does not plan to walk the Reed Arena stage a second time Friday to accept her chemistry degree, she will be in attendance for the 2 p.m. ceremony. Despite so many outside endeavors, Cuccio says she thoroughly enjoyed her time at Texas A&M and that she'll be leaving Aggieland with many fond memories, from researching cardiac muscle aging with Dr. John Lawler in the Department of Health and Kinesiology to making new friends.
"It has that small-town feel and is very tradition-based," Cuccio says. "And I've always wanted to come to Texas A&M since I was a little kid."
Mission accomplished -- twice.
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7264 or firstname.lastname@example.org