Breana Martinez, she/her(s)
California State University, Long Beach
Master of Social Work
“Our communities need us. Our unique experiences, thoughts, compassion, and diversity are critical to advancing the fields we are a part of. Pursuing higher education often feels like an uphill battle, but we are never alone. When we tap into our communities and each other we find a collective strength. I am here today, graduating with a master's degree, because of my ancestors and my community. Just as my ancestors paved the way for me, yours have done the same. There is an abundance of sad stories about people of color, we can uplift our communities by adding our successes to the narrative. When we share our success, especially in higher education, we serve as trailblazers for youth who never thought higher education was possible. By sharing our stories, we can build a narrative around our resilience and the light we each have inside of us. Education is a gift, and no one can take that away from you. I implore everyone pursuing higher education to not only think about what it means for them but to think about what it means for the communities they are a part of. We embark on this endeavor so those who come after us will know that they can aspire to be everything they ever dreamed of. Our education is merely the beginning.”
Arlys Tineo, She/Her/Hers/Ella
New York University Silver School of Social Work
Masters in Social Work
“Graduating with a master's degree as a Latinx woman and product of immigrants, completing a bachelor's and master's degree signifies multiple things. 10% of Latinas in the U.S. hold a BA degree. Only 3% of Latinas in the U.S. hold a master's degree. As part of the class of 2021, I will become part of the 3%. As a first generation Dominican American, I will be the first in my immediate family to get a master's degree. I dedicate my successes and accomplishments to my family always because without their support, I know I wouldn't be in the position that I'm in today. I always say my degree isn't mine - it's my mom's.
Don't get me wrong - getting through school isn't easy. On top of a job, internship, student leadership, family, social life and self nourishment (can't forget self care). Recently, I've been reflecting a lot on getting a degree during a pandemic and having to go to school and graduation virtually. I quickly realized that these factors don't belittle my accomplishments. They don't belittle the hard work and sacrifices I've had to make to get to this moment. My resiliency doesn't go unnoticed through a computer camera. I hope for all the graduates from the class of 2021 to choose this time to celebrate the big and small accomplishments. If the pandemic taught us anything it's to expect the unexpected, cherish the small memories, and count your blessings.”
Sofia Cardenas, She/her
Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles
M.S. Counseling Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy
"Never in a million years did I believe me, young girl from Pacoima, California would get this far and obtain my masters degree. My motivation has always been my family. My parents both immigrated from me México at such a young age for the “California dream”. Their hard work and sacrifices is what continues to push me to go the extra mile. This accomplishment is not just for me , es para la raza. Completing my masters degree during a global pandemic was no walk in the park having to manage my own mental health as well as my clients was a challenge. This past year I really did learn the importance of self care and setting boundaries. There were many times when I was ready to quit but my family was there each and every step of the way. I only hope to continue motivating la gente from the 818, if I can do it .. you can as well! With this degree I plan to continue working in my community as a mental health therapist and hope to have my own private practice in the future."
Lizbeth Amezcua Perez, She/Her/Hers
Sonoma State University
Bachelors in Sociology with a minor in Women and Gender Studies
"This degree is for my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. This degree is more than just a paper with my name, it is a representation of the lucha it takes to overcome educational barriers. I have always struggled to overcome educational barriers, especially with English. I am first generation and I want it to be a model for the younger generation que si se puede. This degree is a representation of my people. The inspiration behind this degree is from my parents, to show that their sacrifices of moving to the U.S. was all worth it. As an immigrant myself I want to give back to my community and be a role model for future generations. This is just the beginning!"
Jaqueline Esparza Gutierrez, She/Her/Hers
St.Mary's University, San Antonio
Masters of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology
"One of the biggest adversities was to complete graduate school during the pandemic while being a first-generation graduate student. The pressure of meeting deadlines for school projects, while trying to adjust to the COVID-19 life and having to work almost full time made me want to give up multiple times. I did not live on campus, but when I needed support my family & boyfriend were there for me.
Yes, by the age of 8 I already knew I wanted to pursue higher education. My best advice is to keep moving forward. When life gets hard just take one day at the time. Find your person to vent to about your struggles, even if they do not fully understand your situation. Si se puede...!
This degree is for me and my mom because she was not granted the opportunity to achieve higher education. It also represents our Latino culture & ganas de salir adelante anywhere."
Mayra Restrepo, She/Her
Hunter College, Silberman School of Social Work
Masters of Social Work
"As an immigrant, and high school dropout, I never saw myself accomplishing what I have. Thanks to my determination and the support and porras of my husband and family I can say that you can accomplish what you set your heart to. 6 years ago as I started community college I saw my goal so far away and unreachable. However, I persisted and that lead me to graduating with my Master's, my dream coming true. I often felt like I didn't belong and having an accent at first was a barrier I put on myself but I was lucky enough to be part of the BEST cohort ever at Silberman and felt supported, respect, and able to speak what I had on my mind. By putting my story out there I want to inspire others to go out and fight for what they want, to beat the odds. Even though it's not easy, your determination will pay off."
Alondra Calderon, She/Her
University of California, Merced
Bachelors in Political Science with a minor in Cognitive Science and Psychology
"Growing up in the Central Valley had its difficulties when trying to pursue higher education. They were less chance of job recruiters or campus recruiters to come and provide the resources needed. Knowing this I always dreamed of one day giving back to the people and providing those educational, financial, and overall resources needed. Obtaining my Bachelors has now allowed me to get one step closer to becoming an advocate for those that need a voice and creating change! This was possible because of that dream and passion to spread the compassion and love I once received!"
Angelica Moreno, She/Her/Hers
University of Southern California
Masters of Education in School Counseling
"I’m back Vagas! Giving up crossed my mind many times! Specifically in undergraduate studies, I overwhelmed myself by taking on way too much. I wanted to feel a sense of belonging in a place where I felt I did not belong. I experienced imposter syndrome. I felt unmotivated. Cost of tuition was also a major factor. I did not know how to balance the stress I was feeling. I decided to move back home after two years and get a job. I took a semester off and decided to enroll in a local community college to complete my general education courses. After years of working full-time and taking one or two courses a semester, I was finally able to transfer to a local University. I finished my Bachelors in Sociology, I found different ways to face obstacles and I had to remind myself these are not setbacks just lessons. Everything in life is temporary. Never did I imagine I would apply or attend USC. I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could help others like myself get through college. I did research and came across the master’s program in school counseling at USC. I took a leap and applied. I knew I had nothing to lose. Three years later I am completing my masters from an institution I never imagined attending. No dream is too big or unattainable. Like my mom always says “el querer es poder.” It always seems impossible until it is done!"
Jannette Alvarado Romero, She/Her(s)
Loyola Marymount University
Masters in Urban Education
“I am an immigrant daughter born to immigrant parents and the first in my family to receive a master’s degree. Even though the odds were always against me, I persevered. My parents taught me to be resilient and never settle for less and, through their unwavering support, I am here today. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in education because of the enormous debt I have towards my community. With this degree, I am now a high school English teacher in the same community that saw me grow up. It is my turn to motivate and shape young minds, just like previous educators did with me. Completing this degree was not easy. I finished my student teaching and credentialing at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The skills I learned for in-person teaching were challenged by an online model my colleagues and I were not familiar with. I was responsible for encouraging and motivating my students while I myself was falling under the pressure of being both teacher and student. Despite these adversities, I never let fear or doubt overcome my passion for teaching. I wrapped myself in the support of my parents, my mentors, and friends, and accomplished what I never thought I would accomplish. To quote one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” So, go! Do the thing you want most!”
Rochester Institute of Technology
Masters of Science in Human Computer Interaction
“Now that I have completed my graduate school experience and received my Master’s degree, I ’d like to express to other women of color in computing to never give up on your goals and find your support system. The experiences I've gathered while pursuing my graduate degree have fostered within me a sense of responsibility and fervency to design information technologies that speak volumes for what women of color are capable of. Possessing a familiarity with being the only African-American woman in my design programs, Ive done my best to connect and lean into the wisdom of other women of color in higher positions to learn and grow from them. I strive to cultivate a similar space that takes into account how interacting with peers that resemble you in your field of study, could provide the push one needs to achieve their greatness. My dream consists of using the knowledge obtained from my degree and my mentors to facilitate professional development and female mentorship programs for young minority women in tech and design majors. There is nothing more powerful than a woman with immense drive and a pure support system; a support system that is willing to make sure that future women leaders will always have the confidence to create without apprehension.”
Kiara De La Cruz, She/Her/Hers
Hunter College, Silberman School of Social Work
Masters Degree in Social Work
“This degree means so much to me in so many ways. Personally, I feel that I have accomplished something that I never expected to have done. I feel that this will give me an opportunity to grow personally and be able to help others. My main goal and hopes are to help those in need, especially, my Hispanic community because I want to give back to my community that means so much to me. When I first came to this country, I did not pronounce one word in English, and today I received a Masters degree from a great institution in New York City. Professionally, I want to keep learning and continue providing therapy to families and individuals in a hospital setting. I would like to send a message with my everyday work to all those immigrants who are fighting and working very hard to come to the United States for a better life. It is very challenging and competitive but is not impossible. We can do it. We can work very hard for what we want in life and accomplish all our goals. This degree not only represents my hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, going to an in-person internship in a global pandemic but it also represents so many lives lost during Covid-19 who had a dream, my family, my ancestors, and most importantly upcoming generations!
Jane Krisart Casupanan, She/Her/Hers
University of California, Berkeley
B.S. Environmental Economics and Policy
"Being an immigrant first-generation college student forced me to learn a foreign college system without any sort of guidance. My parents trusted that I can navigate the process of applying for college and securing financial aid all on my own. Despite not having a traditional educational background herself, my mother was highly encouraging and incredibly persistent that I finish my degree. It was her confidence in me and my refusal for people to look down on her for not having a proper education that led me to where I am today. When I walked across the stage, I knew my mother was beaming with pride and joy. Truly that is all that matters to me."
Jasmine Robles, She/Her/Hers
Masters in Psychology
"First off, Glory to God for allowing me to pursue higher education. I’m also thankful for my parents who immigrated to this country from Mexico and El Salvador. I can never repay them for their sacrifices, but I at least hope that they look at my academic success and feel that their sacrifice was worth it.
As I reflect on my educational journey, I am humbled by how far God has brought me. Looking back at my time at CSUN, where I pursued my undergraduate degree, I remember my family struggled financially. I used food stamps and worked as a student assistant getting by with $500 a month. God made a way every time, so I can purchase my books and school essentials.
Then, I applied two years in a row to master’s and doctorate programs and wasn’t invited to be part of a cohort either time. But that didn’t stop me from trying again.
Fast forward, my husband and I are homeowners and the third time was a charm. I will be starting the PsyD program at Fuller Theological Seminary this fall 2021.
My goal is to be a Neuropsychologist and open my own assessment center. I will be integrating spirituality into my clinical practice and provide affordable services that are made available to all.
I hope part of my story shows perseverance in the midst of adversity, so that it can be used as a reminder to keep pushing and not give up. #ConDiossisepuede #Futuradoctoraenpsicología."
Jesenia Villoldo, She/Her/Hers/Ella
University of Central Florida
M.A. Marriage, Family, & Couples Therapy
"There were many times during this journey in where I asked myself, “why am I making such a sacrifice and working a full-time job, internship, classes, being a wife, going to therapy for the first time, and not to mention being in the middle of a global pandemic?” Just a simple looking around and my husband giving me a loving reminder that I bring a lot to the table, as a woman of color in the military getting a degree in higher education and wanting to work with marginalized populations. There are not very many people of color in higher education and even though this made it that much harder I knew that I needed to accomplish this and that my sacrifices would be worth it. As a first-generation daughter of immigrants, I have never had the luxury of knowing what my future may look like or having people mentoring me along the way but I made it and for once in my life, I will celebrate this WIN because the work to get here was not given to me but 200% worked for. I will admit that being the trailblazer in my family has been exhausting but I have found healing in finding time to rest but also continue to push forward. I am thankful for the adversities (even the ones I am still trying to heal from) because they have made me who I am today and will make me a better Therapist for my clients."
Diana Rosario Flores Barnett, She/Her
Bachelors in Biochemistry
"I come from a predominantly Hispanic community so I was used to seeing brown faces everywhere I went: school, grocery stores, restaurants, home. And most of the time these people shared similar struggles as myself. But before entering college, I never really viewed our experiences, my experiences as a “struggle” because being a first-generation college student and having Spanish speaking parents felt normal to me. But this wasn’t the case for the majority of the students at my liberal arts college. Most of my peers came from rich or white families that understood what it meant to go to college and the process that came with it, so they didn’t have to worry about figuring that part out. I also struggled accepting the fact that I deserved to be there, that I was good enough to succeed through college. But as the strong, independent Latina I was raised to be, I joined the Latinx club, First Generation club, Women in stem club, Women’s Rugby, and a lot of other clubs and groups that helped me find my people and surround myself with positive energy. Whenever I felt down, I knew I wasn’t actually alone and my friends and family were there for support!"
Teresa Otáñez-Ortiz, She/Her/Hers
Bachelors in Law, Politics, and Society with a minor in Music and English
"Having graduated from a small private university in Iowa, I was usually the only person of color in the classroom. If I was lucky, there was one or two other POC in the room full of 28 white people. Although I’m outgoing and can make friends easily, I lived with my parents and spent hours in isolation studying, so I often felt alone on campus despite being heavily involved in student organizations. But I learned to enjoy being alone, to replace the “fear of missing out” with positive thoughts, like my dreams, my bigger fish to fry—law school. I may have missed frat parties and football games, but my sacrifice and hard work paid off as I placed on the President’s and Dean’s List for several years, won the Best Paper Award in my entire major for an Upper-division course, and graduated with magna cum laude honors. I’m just trying to make my inner-child who was bullied because she couldn’t even speak English and attended ESL classes until third grade proud. I know she’ll smile when she’s hears that we’re going to law school in August with a three-quarters scholarship and will eventually join the 2% of Latina women working in the legal field. To all students of color: You’re a vulture, ruthless, the only bird that can fly higher than the rest. It’s lonely being the best, but we need you to get up, to make a difference. You’ll find your people along the way. Si se puede✊🏼"