First generation college students to plan ceremony from home


Jonathan Aguilar | La DePaulia

Balloons float in front of a house celebrating the graduating class of 2020 in Villa Park, IL.

First-generation university students will be celebrating their commencement ceremony from home, despite a challenging and unplanned final academic quarter. 

Mercedes Chavez, 28, a first-generation student studying Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul University, said that although she was first devastated upon hearing of the cancelation of all in-person commencement ceremonies, graduation is still crucial for her as it symbolizes the completion of a long academic journey. 

“It has been a long journey for me to earn my degree,” said Chavez. “Graduation means that I finally completed a step in life that I never thought was possible. This is actually the fifth school I have attended because I constantly switched my major or just believed that I was not smart enough to stay in school.”

The switch to remote learning has not been easy for Chavez,  who said it’s been difficult for her to adjust to online platforms like Zoom and Voice Thread. 

“The online quarter does not feel real,” Chavez said. “I meet with one class biweekly and still have a ton of reading, however the experience is not there.”

Chavez said despite ceremony cancellations and a difficult final academic quarter, she will be still celebrating her academic accomplishments along with her loved ones who have been with her every step of the way. 

“All the doubts and obstacles I overcame to get here took so much time and energy that I deserve to celebrate,” Chavez said. “My loved ones saw how much I struggled to stay in school and they were rooting for me to finish.”

Tiayanna Bogan, 22, a first-generation student majoring in business administration and African and Black diaspora, said graduation not only marks a significant moment for her in her life but also to those around her. 

“The importance of this day still is a tremendous opportunity and accomplishment,” said Bogan.  “Being first to graduate, I’ve been the example to get my family, friends and peers to seek their education.”

Whether it’s in-person or online, Bogan said graduating from a higher education institution like DePaul allows her to defeat academic stereotypes. 

“This is creating a gateway and vision that I am not a stereotype and I’m a product of my community which is a blessing,” she said. “This holds more value to say we are worth more, capable of more and available to more than the blind eye can see.”

Like Chavez, Bogan said it has also been difficult for her to complete her final quarter at DePaul remotely. 

“Online courses have become more stressful and tedious than in-person classes,” Bogan said. “However, I’m making the best of it. I’ve set up a goal to graduate with my 3.8 and leave my sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho and any other organization I’ve been associated with on a good note as a thank you gift.” 

Chavez, who has a job lined up in the field of community service and marketing after college, said she feels prepared to graduate and enter the next chapter of her life amid pandemic. 

“I’m excited about graduation, I’m literally counting the days,” Chavez said. “Many have worries but I’ve been prepared for this moment. The real world awaits and I have a job lined up after graduation to carry out my passion of community service and marketing.”

Graduating and stepping into a new chapter during a pandemic has helped Chavez to examine and ponder on her next steps in life. 

“This quarantine has been a time to regroup and evaluate my next steps and in doing that I’ve come with plans to not cause fear to enlighten faith and hope back in my city, community and myself,” she said.

For honors marketing student, Scarlett Magana-Sigh,  being the first to graduate from college in her family shows her what she is capable of achieving.

“As the first one to do this in my family, it feels like I’m breaking a generational curse,” Magana-Sigh said. 

Magana-Sigh said that although her university completion took her longer to complete due to financial and transferring reasons and the in-person ceremony cancellation due to Covid-19, she will still be celebrating her graduation at home along with her family. 

“I know my family is really proud of this accomplishment. My mom especially, I know she’s proud of my drive and ambition,” Magana-Sigh said. “Graduation to me feels like a long time coming, but I wouldn’t have changed any of it. I know I was meant to experience it the way I did.” 

Despite Magana-Singh’s new chapter of life being nothing how she expected, she said she will still be continuing to use her skills in marketing and become prepared for rising opportunities. 

“This new chapter of life is nothing how I expected,” Magana Singh said. “My advice for rising seniors entering their senior year amid this pandemic is to stay open-minded. This pandemic has changed how things look for myself, and a lot of other people. The best thing we can do is try to adapt, and still grow within this, keeping the bigger picture in mind.”