Gina Rodriguez Was A First-Generation College Student. Now She's Using Her Story To Empower Others.

"I can and I will."

Gina Rodriguez believes that amazing things are possible through education, and she has the experience to prove it.

As part of Clinique's Difference Makers campaign, Rodriguez is sharing her story and "turning education into empowerment." She and her siblings were the first generation in her family to attend college, but it wasn't an easy road. 

The Golden Globe-winning Jane the Virgin star grew up in a tough neighborhood in Chicago with a poor school system. "As a result of that," she says in the video, "kids got caught up in a cycle of 'can't' and 'won't.' "

Rodriguez counts herself lucky, because her family valued education as a "ticket to success." She wants other young people to receive the same support, which is why she chooses to visit schools and share with students the motivational message her father repeated to her growing up: "I can and I will." Those words have been so important to her journey that she even has them engraved on a necklace.

Thanks to education, Rodriguez explains, she was able to rise above the challenges in her life, from her skin color to her body type.

The actress recently spoke with the Huffington Post about her initiative and offered words of encouragement and understanding to first-generation college students who are embarking on their freshman year.

First [I would tell them] how proud and incredibly inspired I am by those that are taking that leap of faith, that are taking that step that creates a role model within their family, which is to me monumental. But outside of that first congratulations I would say: 'Now it becomes a challenge. Now is the time for you to go through an experience that will be tough, that will be challenging, that will feel like obstacles but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.'

She added, "It's four years of life that you dedicate to hard work, to being persistent and ambitious and driven because you are the change ... Just remember, during those times of fear or doubt, that you are right now discovering your true strength."

Rodriguez urged students not to be discouraged by failure or rejection, because not only are they normal parts of life, but "those moments are going to contribute to the celebration you will have when you have made your accomplishments and your dreams come true."

And for Rodriguez, that feeling of accomplishment "is better than any feeling in the world."

(H/T: E! News)