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Tulsa senior with Seal of Biliteracy ready to translate her skills to future law career

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Mitzy Herrera is ready to take on the world in two languages.

The senior class president at Will Rogers College High School, Herrera is one of 79 seniors across 10 Tulsa Public Schools sites to graduate this month with the Seal of Biliteracy. The seal is awarded to students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages.

Languages spoken by this year’s recipients include French, Latin, Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as English. Herrera and 72 other seniors earned the seal for their Spanish skills.

“Switching between languages is hard,” Herrera said. “Being able to be rewarded for that is an awesome thing, because it’s a sign that my efforts are being appreciated. It’s pretty cool.”

Since the 2018-19 school year, 247 TPS students have earned the Seal of Biliteracy for their fluency in both English and at least one of 12 other languages, including Bangla, Chinese, Hmong, Indonesian, Pashto, Russian, Yoruba and Zomi.

Herrera grew up speaking Spanish at home with her family. However, to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, she had to mentally jump between languages with examiners asking her questions in English and expecting answers in Spanish.

“If I’m having a conversation with someone just in Spanish, it’s so much easier,” she said. “We’ve never taken tests or assessments in Spanish, so it was really different to have to process those questions and have to think of an answer in Spanish.”

Herrera will put her language skills on display at Rogers’ commencement Saturday, as she will be translating remarks from the Student Council president and class salutatorian at graduation. Although she is a little nervous, she said she is excited about the opportunity to make sure more of her classmates’ relatives and friends are able to fully understand the ceremony.

“It’s an awesome thing to be able to do, especially at graduation,” Herrera said, noting how many fellow students can’t speak Spanish despite having parents who speak the language.

After graduating ninth in her class, Herrera plans to attend the University of Oklahoma this fall, making her the first person in her family to go to college. Earlier this month she completed Tulsa Tech’s legal professional assistant program, and she wants to go to law school eventually.

Herrera interned at an immigration law office that helped show her a need for her bilingual background.

“Working at the law firm has taught me that there aren’t many Spanish-speaking attorneys who can help,” she said. “Being able to speak both languages (English and Spanish) can help me do a lot in that field.”

Other high schools with Seal of Biliteracy graduates this year are Booker T. Washington, East Central, Edison, Hale, Memorial, McLain, Phoenix Rising and Tulsa MET.

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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