It’s lunchtime in Orlando. Or at least it is for Lyn Oquendo. At 3 p.m. on a Monday, Oquendo steps away from a computer monitor and indulges in Triscuits and butter. UCF’s Spring 2023 graduation ceremonies are taking place this week, but Oquendo’s career with Warner Brothers Animation (WBA) started seven months ago. Headquarters are in Glendale, California, which means the workday runs from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. It’s no big deal to Oquendo.
“I’ve been constantly going, going, going since high school. After graduation, I’ll only have my job to think about. That’s my next frontier — slowing down,” says Oquendo, a student in the experimental animation track of the UCF School of Visual Arts and Design‘s emerging media program.
No one questions Oquendo’s pursuits, except maybe this idea of tapping the brakes. Landing the job with WBA is a microcosm of the personality we’re talking about. Oquendo texted a friend at the studio, then double texted and triple texted. The messages were to the point: Please give me a chance. You will not regret it.
“When I finally interviewed with the producer, she said she’d never seen someone so driven,” Oquendo says.
“When I finally interviewed with the producer, she said she’d never seen someone so driven.”
Oquendo’s entire college life is a story of drive, nearly 10 years in the making. It includes full-time jobs, more than a hundred scholarship applications, paying for household bills, and pushing forward — always pushing forward.
“My mom would say, ‘You have your head above the clouds with your feet on the ground,’ ” Oquendo says.
Oquendo could fill a motivational calendar with family quotes like that.
From Grandma: “Always look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with who you are.”
From the person in the mirror: “I can mourn failure and spend energy complaining or get up in the morning and use my energy to make things better.”
The quotes are rooted in life experiences for the Oquendos. Grandma and grandpa fled oppression in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1992. They arrived with no money, no jobs and four daughters to feed, including Lyn’s mother. For a long time, they lived with ten family members in a small apartment in Miami.
“They lost everything in Cuba,” Oquendo says. “My grandfather never learned to read or write. He and my grandmother had to figure out how to make it here. They never expected others to do it for them.”
Oquendo grew up with mom and grandma after grandpa passed away.
“Grandma always told me how important it is to fight for yourself and for your family,” Oquendo says.
She and mom would read to Oquendo, who became fascinated with stories and art while sitting in their laps. The book that kept Oquendo riveted more than any other? The Bible. Grandma and mom would read about Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, David and Saul. Again and again.
“I could never get enough,” Oquendo says. “The artwork and the power of those stories amazed me. They interconnected to tell this bigger overall story, and they impacted history forever.”
As a teenager, Oquendo thought often about making a living with art and stories. But those thoughts were never voiced out loud. Instead, Oquendo would claim to have an interest in teaching. The family had worked so hard to re-establish their lives. What would they say about the practicality of an art career?
“Now I look back and know my mother would have said, ‘Sure, you can do it.’ But then she would have said, ‘You can also figure out how to do it,’ ” Oquendo says.
“Now I look back and know my mother would have said, ‘Sure, you can do it.’ But then she would have said, ‘You can also figure out how to do it.’ ”
After high school, Oquendo figured out how to get into an art college in Chicago. However, Oquendo could not figure out how to continue paying $34,000 per semester. After one fall in Chicago, Oquendo enrolled at Broward Community College as a pathway into UCF’s emerging media program. A year later, another obstacle came up when the design portion of Oquendo’s portfolio didn’t pass entry into the program. Some students would have changed course. Not Oquendo.
“It became a turning point in my life. I realized my own negative thoughts had been getting in the way,” Oquendo says. “That’s why I didn’t tell anyone about my interest in art. It’s probably why my grades weren’t so great in high school. I knew it was time to prove to everyone that I could do this. Most of all, I had to prove it to myself.”
Oquendo worked overtime on design skills and pushed the door open to UCF’s emerging media program. Mom couldn’t pay for college, so Oquendo applied for scholarships and worked full-time while taking a heavy course load. The resume includes making donuts at Universal Orlando, stocking inventory at Target, preparing takeout boxes at PF Chang’s and cleaning up at an animal shelter.
Figuring it out also meant paying for rent and monthly bills, buying a car, shopping for food, while growing as an artist and storyteller — and maintaining a 3.9 GPA. This became Oquendo’s own motivational quote: “I can either be a stick in the fire, or be the wind and grow the fire to warm myself up.”
Oquendo carved out time to apply for more than 100 jobs and internships with companies that had any vague connection to emerging media — from local t-shirt shops to Pixar. A spreadsheet of notes from those applications fed the fire, and still does:
“Unread.” “No.” “No response.” “Ghosted.”
They warmed up Oquendo until a better opportunity than anyone could imagine arose — an internship with WBA to work on productions like Teen Titans Go!, Harley Quinn, and Bugs Bunny Builders. The internship led to connections that led to the texts that led to a pre-graduation career start.
“This field is not an easy one. But because of that, everyone who’s in it wants to be in it.”
“This field is not an easy one,” Oquendo says. “But because of that, everyone who’s in it wants to be in it. I’m working with a person who’s passionate about designing movie credits. Think about that — movie credits. I also met a guy who had always dreamed of making cartoon movie trailers. We’re like-minded. Something drives each of us to do this.”
Two of Oquendo’s driving forces will be present at commencement. Mom will watch from a seat in Addition Financial Arena. The other will be on Oquendo’s graduation cap: “Para ti, Abuela. Siempre para ti.”
For you, Grandma. Always for you.