It’s that time of the year!! Her Vaga Bound Roots, Inc. is launching their 4th annual Vagas with Degrees Series, Class of 2020, which celebrates the narratives of womxn of color who have overcome barriers in pursuit of higher education.
Amid the global health crisis, many commencement ceremonies have been canceled. Her Vaga Bound Roots remains committed to our mission of celebrating the resilience of WOC in higher education. Now more than ever, the Vagas with Degrees Series serves a much needed platform to honor the accomplishments and provide womxn the opportunity to be celebrated.
New York University Silver School of Social Work
Master's Degree in Social Work
My name is Selene Carrillo Alvarez, I was born and raised in Mexico. I arrived to the U.S. as an Au Pair living and working with a host family. Later on, they gave me the opportunity to stay by sponsoring my student visa. I started this social work journey at WCC where I earned a Human Services Associates Degree then I transferred to Concordia College, NY in order to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. I just graduated with a MSW from NYU Silver School of Social Work. As an immigrant, I have always seen myself advocating for women and children, mostly Spanish speakers. While studying my Associates Degree in Human Services I understood that becoming a social worker was the best way to advocate for survivors and victims of domestic violence, which for personal reasons is a topic I have been always interested in. I decided to focus my studies to learn more about this topic for my future career and gain knowledge of the resources and services that organizations and agencies offer here because unfortunately in Mexico we do not have the same social and government support for victims of domestic violence. I knew this vocation was for me and since I got the chance to study in the U.S. I knew that I have to take advantage of this opportunity and do something meaningful in both my life as well as others. Having the opportunity to help others is a dream come true.
Howard University School of Social Work
I would like to share my story with other Latinas and teen parents. I want to encourage them to continue pursuing your goals and dreams no matter how impossible it seems. Regardless of those people that fill your mind with doubt, including family. I became a single, teen parent at the age of 16. Everyone said my life was over after that and that I wouldn’t do anything with my life. Boy they were wrong! I even dropped out of high school to care for my daughter. I knew I needed higher education to provide a better future for the both of us. I decided to go back to school to get my GED. I went straight to college after to obtain my Bachelor’s in Science. I was Introduced to social work by a mentor of mine. He always believed that I would be great at this. I made the decision to pursue my Masters in Social Work. Now, here I am, a graduate of the class of 2020. I’m so ready to represent all Latinas and teen parents while changing the world in the process. Stay encouraged. The best thing you can do for your child/children is expose them to higher education. They will appreciate it in the future. My daughter is soon to be a senior at Penn State. I have been a huge support for her to make it this far. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. I’m so fortunate to see my daughter following my footsteps. Do not allow others to define what you are capable of. If you work hard, you can make it far too. I am living proof of that.
Melissa V. Landeros
University of Washington
M.Ed. Leadership in Higher Education
I did not expect to make higher education my career, I like many others stumbled into. However, when I started working in Student Affairs, my passion for supporting students and programming flourished. Throughout my role I began to learn what it meant to really be a student advocate and how easily one could impact the student experience. I witnessed first-hand how bureaucratic systems and campus politics could easily cause students to fall through the cracks, especially underrepresented groups. As a first-generation Latina, I understand how difficult navigating college and finding a sense of community could be. I also know the importance of institutions having diverse faculty and staff representation. As I continue my work in higher education, I hope to be that representation for my fellow Latino/a/x community and other underrepresented groups. More than that, I also want students of color to know that contrary to what our education system was founded on, they can succeed and that they have someone rooting and advocating for them. Now with this master’s degree I will have the opportunity to push my work even further and continue to approach it with the utmost care and support as possible.
California State University, Northridge
B.S in Business Administration with a focus in Systems and Operations Management
As a first-generation Latina graduate, I am proud and filled with gratitude. This degree represents hard work, dedication, and resilience. If you would’ve told me a few years ago that I’d graduate from a University I wouldn’t have believed you. I always knew the importance and value of an education but never thought I’d go back to school after having my daughter. I didn’t grow up with wealth, but I come from something much more important. I come from a close family who raised me with an abundance of love and support. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies though. As I grew up, I went through life learning the hard way. I learned to face my fears and use them as my motivator to grow stronger. My motivation and purpose to pursue a higher education were my daughter and siblings. Being the oldest of five siblings came with a lot of responsibility and pressure to be a role model. I hope I’ve impacted them and inspired them enough so that they believe that anything is possible. I’m just one of the many testaments of first-generation students to say, SI SE PUEDE! Having a choice is a powerful tool and because of it, I am here today. To anyone who is struggling and fears going back to school, I am here to tell you that life is about failing and learning. You have to fall to get back up stronger. Don’t allow your life to be decided by a percentage or stereotype, and always strive to beat the odds. I am thankful for all the support I received throughout this journey. Thank you Wendoline & your team for using your platform to honor and celebrate Women of color on their accomplishments.
New York University: Silver School of Social Work
Master of Social Work
I am a first generation Latina to accomplish my Master's. This degree means everything to me because my family worked very hard to get me here. I have had the support of my family through everything during my time of higher education. Growing up my parents pushed me to go to college and then continue into graduate studies. Without their words of encouragement I do not think I would have come this far.
Not only is my Master's degree for them but it is also for my sister. During this time I only hoped that I could be someone that she looked up to. There may have been times I wanted to give up because it got to hard but then I would think of her and I did not want this to be the example I set for my sister. I learned that even though the times get tough I cannot give up on my goals.
California State University, Northridge
Masters in Humanities
"When I found out I was pregnant, I threw away my graduation application packet. I thought there was no way I can continue that goal. Something about seeing my daughter face-to-face gave me the strength and motivation I needed. I finally went through with the application when my daughter was born, and she has been by my side through these two years of graduate school. It wasn’t just about being her mother, but wanting to be a positive female role model in her life. I wanted to show my daughter that there was power in being brown and female. I found out roughly 4% of Latinas going to pursue a graduate degree, that was the statistic that kept me going. I am proud to stand on the other side of that number and hope this accomplishment can encourage many more Latinas to do so."
Verónica Guadalupe Chávez Cortez
Fairleigh Dickinson University- Metropolitan Campus
Master of Arts in Teaching- High School Spanish with a double concentration on ESL education and Bilingual Education (2020)
These degrees signify more than five years of hard work and sacrifice. My degrees allow me to fulfill my lifelong dream to become a teacher. They are the embodiment of undying hope, resilience, prayers and overcome challenges. As a DACA recipient, this dream didn’t seem attainable. Dreamers know that in order to make our dreams come true, hard work is not enough with a system in place that is against us. With everything set against me, I’m grateful for every ally, supportive professor and friend I met along the way that encouraged me. More than anything, I’m grateful for my parents, siblings and godparents who have always been my greatest supporters. They inspire me to set goals for myself and push me to accomplish them. They help me grow with their unconditional love and unending support. I know their prayers have carried me through each semester.
I follow in the footsteps of my mother who left her dream job so I could achieve mine, and my brother whose dreams were cut short when we left our country. I set the path for my sister whose dreams are to become an immigration lawyer. I fulfill my father’s dream to see me achieve mine. I would not be where I am without them. I started and finished thanks to them.
The challenges I faced in these 5 years have made me stronger. Our family’s separation was the greatest challenge. I couldn’t imagine not having my brother with me for the big moments. I always envisioned my family, the reason and inspiration for all of my accomplishments, celebrating my achievements with me. Although I cannot physically celebrate this accomplishment with my brother, I know he is back home cheering me on and continues to believe in me more than I believe in myself.
Alicia E. Hernandez
Mercer University, Atlanta, GA
Master of Education, Higher Education Leadership
This degree signifies so much to not only me, but also my family and my children. I am a first generation, daughter of immigrants, GED recipient, single parent, non-traditional student. I was also a teen parent and statistically speaking, I was not even supposed to go to college, let alone graduate school. But instead of letting statistics define my education attainment or my future, I used those statistics as motivation. I was determined to become one of the few Latina’s with a graduate degree. I had to compromise so many things for this degree as well as overcome so many obstacles. This degree means so much more because it was the first time during my college experience where I believed in myself and all my capabilities. This was the first time that I felt like I belonged in college and that I was smart enough to be in this program. I struggled so much during my undergrad experience because; 1. I was not studying something I was passionate about, 2. It took me almost 10 years to finish my degree, and 3. I lacked the confidence of believing in myself and that was reflected in my grades. Towards the end of my undergrad, I started working on ME and realized just how much adversity I had overcome and that made me realize that I was capable of doing hard stuff. I did belong in college; I was smart enough to go into a graduate program and I also realized that it was okay to change career paths. I was able to complete my graduate degree program with a 4.0! So this degree isn’t just another check mark, it is evidence that we are built to do hard things and our past does not define us!
Stephanie Cuevas (She/ Her/ Hers)
University of Southern California
Bachelors in Psychology
I remember receiving college acceptances and my family’s face lighting up with excitement and pride. That excitement and pride, however, was nothing compared to the one they displayed during my virtual commencement. I am now a USC alumna and I did it on a full ride. For four years my family has bragged about me. It has always been along the lines of “My daughter goes to USC and she’s on scholarship”. Now, they get to say that I graduated. They can say that their daughter, who was often the only person of color in her classroom, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California. I am focusing on my family because my degree could not be possible without them. My degree is proof of their love and support, but also a shared accomplishment. My degree is a love letter to them and the many communities I identify with as a low-income, first generation Chicanx bisexual woman. I reached one milestone, one degree, but I am not stopping there. I still have a long way to go and I am lucky I can say I know my family and close friends will be cheering me on the entire time. We can do it. Para mi familia. Siempre.
University of California, Berkeley
Bachelors of Science in Business Administration with a minor in Spanish Language and Literature
Four years seems like a long time, but it's really not. My time in college flew by. It is incredibly important to cherish your time in college because there's probably never going to be another time when you're surrounded by your friends and other people your age again. In the workforce, there are people of all ages with diverse backgrounds. In college, there is ample opportunity to network, make friends, and join professional/social groups with like-minded individuals. When I felt alone and overwhelmed with how big UC Berkeley is, I joined athletic, professional, and social groups to meet new people. I joined the Cal Equestrian Team, the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. As captain of the Cal Equestrian Team, I got the opportunity to share my passion for horses with other Cal students and continue competitive horseback riding while in college. As a member of the Haas Undergraduate Business Association, I had the opportunity to participate in insightful networking events and career advice panels with professionals from top companies such as EY, PwC, Kaiser Permanente, Gap, and many more. As president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Rho Chapter, I had the opportunity to engage in community service events, charity fundraisers, campus programs, and regional conferences. If you are feeling alone in college, the best way to overcome that feeling is to join a team, club, or group where you feel like you belong. By being actively involved in what the university has to offer, you will create fond memories, form unique experiences, and make lifelong friendships. It will be an unforgettable four years.
Diana Moran (She/Her/Hers)
California State University, Northridge
Bachelors of Science in Public Health
“As a first-generation Latina college student, my motivation has always been my family. They have made me realize that my education is both a privilege and an honor. My family sacrificed everything they had in Mexico to provide me with a better life. At a young age, I remember them telling me that the only thing that was permanent was my education. To this day, this is something I hold dearly to as no one can take the countless hours of learning I’ve invested.
The unlimited support from my parents has driven me to finish my bachelor’s degree in three years, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. I have also learned from them the importance of taking risks. If they wouldn’t have sacrificed everything to provide me with a better life, I would not be graduating this year. Although sometimes our dreams may frighten us and may seem unreachable, they are not. As Latina’s who have overcome different kinds of adversity, we are capable of anything we strive for and much more.
Obtaining higher education has also made me realize that many low-income areas, as my own, are facing health disparities. Throughout my college journey, this has inspired me to become president of a health club on campus, become a peer health educator, and volunteer at local clinics. It is due to this that I want to further my education in nursing and public health. I want to be able to help vulnerable populations achieve health equity. The ability to seek health care should not be another barrier that stops us from improving our quality of life. My education is not just to be celebrated for me, but also for my parents, and the countless individuals who have supported Latinas pursuing a higher education along the way.”
Daisy Chavez (She/ Her)
Cal State University of Dominguez Hills
Bachelors in Human Services with a minor in Mental Health
“This degree means more to me than a piece of recognition. It means my parents' hard work in making sure I had everything I needed. It also means their struggles and sacrifices to make sure my education came first. They wanted me to become someone in life to have a purpose and pursue a dream they couldn’t. I am also a first generation graduate in my immediate family to graduate High School, Community College and thankfully now University. I thank my parents for all they have done and the effort they put into pursuing my dreams. My family was looking forward to celebrating me and my accomplishments but in reality it’s a family goal. Money wasn’t easy and I had to take out a loan while having to pay my other bills. This degree came with a cost but I’m glad I’m able to finally say I DID IT ! Thankful for all my support systems and my backbones my parents. They are my true inspiration and the ones I owe my life to. Mom & Dad this one is for you. All that hard work finally paid off. Can’t wait to give you everything you gave me plus more. I love you guys. Shoutout to Dominguez Hills C/O 2020 the finish line is finally here.”
Karina Silva Garcia (She/her/hers)
Washington State University
I came to the U.S when I was about 13 yrs old. I was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. Like many immigrant families, my parents wanted better job opportunities and a better future for themselves and their children. I was an ESL student, and I worked for about 5 years along with family in the fields thinning apples. As a Latina and first-generation college student, I know our perseverance and our voice matter in this country. To me, my Ph.D. degree means my family's effort, breaking barriers, mi esfuerzo, cultura, y comunidad. This degree comes with a responsibility to serve, create, mentor, and to honor our ancestor's journey. My family, friends, and community have always been my biggest motivation.
Earning my doctorate is only the beginning for me, and I am ready. I am determined to utilize the knowledge and experiences I acquired to make a difference in underserved communities. We need representation, compassion, healing, respect, humildad, and ganas to make a positive impact in our communities. We need people like us to be in positions of power to truly make a systematic change. Our degrees are not only ours, but our families, and our communities. Estamos aqui para triunfar asi que a echarle ganas y a ponernos las pilas!
My'Asja Wilson (She/Her)
High Point University
Bachelors of Arts in Human Relations with a minor in Leadership
“With a degree in human relations, most of my courses involved conflict resolutions, team dynamics, and business management. I aspire to diminish the conversation where race and gender no longer become a prerequisite for entering a job force. Being a double minority as an African American and a woman presents more than enough hardships without adding trying to be in the workforce onto it. With my degree, I plan on becoming a Human Resources Director and implementing resources where gender and race discrimination can no longer harbor applicant success before entering into an organization.
The people that inspired me to pursue an education are my grandmother and great-grandmother. During their time, they could not attend college and pursue their dreams because they were raised to always care for a family. Growing up with these women as my role-models it was never a question on continuing my education. From an early age, the college has been a goal of mine to accomplish, and along with that; every accomplishment I strived for and earned was so they could see that their countless hard work raising me paid off. With a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree acquired, my next goal in life is to pursue a master’s degree.
Now that I know I am a role model to my younger sister, I will continue to break through barriers and achieve my dreams just so she can say “I can do that too because I have seen my sister do it”.
Jocelyn Garrido (she/her/hers)
University of Redlands
Masters of Arts in Learning and Teaching
“This Master’s degree serves as a testament that anything is possible when you set your mind to it. This accomplishment is not only mine but of my family and friends who have supported me through this journey. My intention was to obtain my multiple subject teaching credential and then return to school at a later date to get my Master’s degree. When the opportunity rose to enroll in a dual program where I would be able to get my teaching credential but also a Master’s degree I took the leap of faith and applied. Now being on the other side of it, I can say that this degree does not define me but rather empowers me. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power no matter what that source of knowledge may be. My parents and teachers were the ones who inspired me to pursue an education. I always knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I want to make a difference by empowering children through a quality education and in order to do that I had to pursue a formal education first for myself. My parents have always been there to give me the resources that I needed in order to be successful but also the space to prioritize my education. They have always supported me and my goal of wanting to be a teacher. My teachers also inspired me to pursue an education by believing in me and motivating me to want better for myself. This led me to make it a goal to attend a private university for my undergraduate degree in which I later stayed to get my graduate degree. As a first generation student, maneuvering the world of higher education is difficult but not impossible.”
Mia Cherie Character (She/Her)
University of California, Berkeley
B.S. Business Administration and B.A. Media Studies
"As a first generation, low income college student, I have truly cherished every moment of my education! I love learning and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the #1 Public University to earn two degrees. As an older sister, I always wanted to serve as a role model for my younger brother and to show him with hard work and perseverance that we can do whatever we put our hearts and minds to. As victims of Hurricane Katrina, we have faced a lot of adversity and I have tried to take every moment that I can to show that past circumstances do not have to hinder you from reaching your full potential. I am very blessed to have the unwavering support of my family and these degrees from UC Berkeley aren't only for me but also for my family members who did all that they could to show me the love and support that encouraged me to always reach for the stars. I have learned some much in an academic context but also about myself personally throughout my journey at UC Berkeley. The Haas School of Business and Media Studies department have fully equipped me with the tools necessary to take on my desired career in Talent Acquisition and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work in the tech entertainment industry. I hope that with my degrees and lived experience that I can inspire other women, especially Black women, to reach for their goals, absolutely crush them, and advance to even bigger and better ones! I look forward to what the future has in store for me and can't wait to be the change-maker that I am destined to become!"
Carolina Ramirez, (She/her/hers/ella)
Iowa State University
Master’s of Education with a specialization in Student Affairs
“This degree is for my family. My family, mentors, and thirst for knowing more inspired me to further pursue a master’s degree. More specifically, my experiences as a first-gen college student and woman of color as an undergraduate were transformative. Transformative in that I realized my sole presence was/is in defiance to institutions of higher education; spaces that were historically not created for folx like me. Once you know, there’s no turning back. I challenged myself to learn more and how I could make a change as a student affairs educator. This degree means I will continue to advocate for and alongside those with marginalized identities, it means I’ve learned so much yet have so much more to learn, and should have confidence in my abilities because I did THAT.”
Mayra Sarahí Alcantar (She/Her/Hers)
University of Southern California
Master of Social Work
“As an immigrant in this country, I knew that I had to pursue higher education. My parents left everything in Mexico to give us the opportunity of a better life. I owe it to my family. Also, my son Joaquin who is my main motivation. I want to encourage him to follow his dreams and never give up. Being raised in South Central I didn’t have many role models, I want to encourage all those kids back in the hood to keep going!”