I've given my parents many gifts throughout my life, from hand-painted macaroni crafts to the best nonstick pans on the market, but delivering them my college diploma is the most important gift I've ever given them.
Like many other immigrant parents, my education was always very important to my mom and dad. From a very young age, they instilled in me that dedication and discipline were essential for success. That's why before I even started kindergarten, my mom assigned me daily "homework assignments." I had workbooks full of coloring pages, math equations, and handwriting practice sheets that I had to complete and review with my mom every day.
Once I started school, my parents always expected me to go above and beyond. If a worksheet had some sort of drawing or illustration, I had to make sure I colored it in before I considered my assignment done — these were my mom's rules, not my teacher's instructions. And despite their not speaking English, they made sure to attend every parent-teacher conference and had me ask the most meticulous questions about my progress, which I then had to translate back into Spanish for them.
"Don't do it for us. You're the only one who's going to benefit. Do it for yourself and push yourself harder, because you know you'll be better."
And as annoying or embarrassing as it might have felt back then, my parents were essential building blocks in developing my work ethic. I always had a goal in mind: graduate from a university and be the first in my family with a college degree. But my parents always reminded me, "Don't do it for us. You're the only one who's going to benefit. Do it for yourself and push yourself harder, because you know you'll be better." But despite hearing this over and over while growing up, it was always about making my parents proud.
I enrolled in academically challenging classes, participated in extracurricular activities, and volunteered at local charities because I knew they were the steps toward getting a college degree. But facing the realities of college wasn't something I was prepared for. I knew the financial cost of attending a four-year university was beyond my family's budget. There was no savings account, no extra cash stored away for me to rely on. It was a tough fact that I not only had to face, but also had to learn to overcome.
I don't really remember how many scholarships I applied to — mostly because it wouldn't do me any good to remember, considering I was rejected from every single one. Deciding to start at a community college became more a necessity than a smart option. And I wasn't alone. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of Hispanics attend public two-year schools, more than any other group. But only 15 percent of Hispanics ever receive a Bachelor's degree.
I had to navigate through a system that wasn't made for people like me. I had to do my own research and find resources to make college affordable for me, without any cost to my parents. Because despite their supporting me along the way, this was for my own good and therefore a burden I didn't want them to deal with. Determined to prove statistics wrong, I enrolled in as many classes as I could handle while working part-time, and I completed internships along the way.
As working-class immigrants, they had probably dreamed and savored this moment, a life event that didn't benefit them but reflected their efforts and the values that they ingrained in their children.
Four years and a couple thousand dollars of my own hard-earned money later, I was getting ready to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, debt free! While sitting through my graduation ceremony, I realized the significance of the event — this moment was about more than just me. I was contributing to a positive statistic for my community, along with many other first-generation Latinx college students who were graduating with me. But I also knew how important the ceremony was for my parents. As working-class immigrants, they had probably dreamed and savored this moment, a life event that didn't benefit them but reflected their efforts and the values that they ingrained in their children.
As I crossed the stage, I couldn't help but feel thankful for everything my parents did to help me achieve this goal. Even though I was very independent during most of my college days, it was their valuable lessons that inspired me to keep going. And while I did benefit a lot from going to college, they were always my inspiration, because achieving success meant making their struggles and all their efforts so much more valuable.