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Walking Tall, for One and All

First Generation Diversity Graduation Celebration
First Generation Diversity Graduation Celebration

Convocation week is special for everyone involved, but perhaps most of all for those who are the first in their families to receive a graduate degree.

TC celebrated their experiences on May 16th with its second annual “First Generation Diversity Graduation Celebration,” held in Cowin Conference Center.

The graduates heard from administrators and faculty members who themselves were first-generation graduates – a group that included TC President Susan Fuhrman; Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor of English Education; Sonya Douglass Horsford, Associate Professor of Education Leadership; Haeny Yoon, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education; Felicia Mensah, Professor of Science and Education, and Associate Dean; and Ernest Morrell, Macy Professor of Education, and Director of TC’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education.

“As the first in my family to earn a college degree, I share the pride graduates feel today,” said Fuhrman, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. from Teachers College. “First-generation scholars are pioneers who bring unique, valuable, diverse perspectives to their work and to their relationships with classmates, professors and mentors.  Your contributions to TC have helped carry forward the legacy of cultural and economic diversity that goes back to the College’s founding 130 years ago.”

“Education, love and sacrifice of family, helped me to become a first-generation Ph.D. in my family,” said Sealey-Ruiz, who completed her undergraduate studies at NYU before earning a Ph.D. at TC. “It has always been students of color on college campuses where resistance to the status quo has brought about change. With your degree in hand, your resistance is the only hope to bring about the change to institutions and societies, particularly in education, healthcare, and policy for children who look like you.”

Mensah remarked on how fortunate all first generation graduates are "to be part of a historical record of beautiful minds, hidden figures, and immortal lives when we think about our education and how we have set examples for those to come after us. Generations from today, a young cousin will do your family tree. She will find a program with your name in it. 'Yes, she was the first person in our family to earn a master’s,' said one cousin. And 'He was the first person to get a doctorate,' said another. Your family tree -- our family tree -- will have extended branches full of too many degrees to count!"

But perhaps most moving of all were the personal testimonies written by the graduates themselves, nearly all thanking their families and friends.

“I’m here to tell you that I am not the little trouble maker I was in grade school anymore,” Laura Alba, receiving her master’s degree in Neuroscience & Education, wrote to her mother. “I can’t believe it either, but I have a master’s degree. This milestone was only accomplished because I learned the value of hard work through watching you…Everything you ever did or sacrified was for my sisters and I. And I just want to say that mommy, you are amazing, tu eres una mujer fuerte, and you made me strong, too.”

Brian Allen, who was receiving his master’s degree in Higher & Postsecondary Education, wrote: “I strive to achieve success to show the communities I aim to advocate for that what may seem impossible is most definitely possible. I’m thankful for the love and support that members of my family have provided me, whether it was simply a phone call, a birth/holiday card, perspective on decisions I had to make, or even money because I was a poor graduate student. I love you so much and I’m walking across the stage with all of the pride and honor that comes with being a part of this tribe!”

And Jaquelyn Franquez, receiving her master’s in Speech/Language Pathology, wrote to her mother and father:

“I know you had to abandon your home and family in Mexico, leave everything behind and cross the border in search of a new life not only for you for your future kids. Being the first of those four kids, I had to experience how daddy used to get up at 4 a.m. every day to go to work while Mommy was just getting home work at the same time, while I took care of my siblings. Both of you made sure that we weren’t missing anything. That’s why I am here getting this education, so I can soon help and you no long will have to work as hard as you have for so many years. Can it be done? I did it! For you, my family, with pride.”

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Published Wednesday, May 24, 2017