A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. For first-generation college student Joemmel Tendilla, a picture is priceless.
Though his immediate family moved to the United States before he was born, Tendilla’s roots are in the Philippines, and it can be difficult to communicate with some of his relatives, whose native language is Tagalog.
That’s where photography comes in.
After receiving his first camera as a hand-me-down from his sister when he was 16, Tendilla taught himself how to capture beautiful images and tell stories through his lens. Now the UMW sophomore uses photography to break down the language barrier within his Filipino-American family.
“I communicate with my family through my pictures,” said Tendilla, a sociology major pursuing a minor in social justice. “Some of my family doesn’t speak fluent English, so it’s easier to show them pictures than to try to find the words to explain it.”
As the first person in his family to attend a four-year college, Tendilla has become a role model for relatives both in America and abroad. He started at UMW in August 2015 on a partial scholarship for his outstanding community service and leadership. The Dorsey Scholarship, which recognizes select students from diverse backgrounds, was established through a $1.1 million Centennial Campaign gift from Paul R. and Mary Ann Dorsey Judy ’54.
“My family is very proud,” Tendilla said. “Being the first to go to college in the U.S. is a big deal.”
Hoping to leave his print on the Mary Washington community, he has jumped head-first into his education, joining the photography club and doing an internship with UMW’s Department of University Relations.
“I believe knowledge isn’t gained just by sitting behind a desk,” said Tendilla, who took photos for the university’s website and social media platforms during a fall-semester internship. “These opportunities have allowed me to improve my photography and make connections that add value to my education. That’s something that will be invaluable when I graduate.”
With unlimited outlets for experiences outside of the classroom, Tendilla feels like he can be himself at UMW.
“I honestly cannot see myself going anywhere else,” he said. “Mary Washington is just a place where I feel at home.”