First generation high school graduates cherish hard work

Graduation signifies an important milestone for so many by symbolizing the transition from childhood to adulthood. This year, many families are celebrating a graduation for the first time. First generation high school graduates and their families are experiencing the occasion together. Although the stay at home order is still in effect, the symbolism of graduation is still worth honoring.

[Graduating] means the first big accomplishment in America. It means that my parents’ pain and hard work weren’t for nothing as they left the country to provide me with a good education, and me graduating would show that I used the opportunity they gave me,” said first generation American high school graduate Katarina Erceg.

First generation students have faced different struggles in their lives; however, they haven’t allowed it to prevent them from succeeding in academics, athletics, and social life. Erceg was able to persevere and end her high school career with many accomplishments

“My proudest moment could be earning a ‘knights spirit’ plaque from my track and field team. It made me realize that despite adapting to a different way of thinking, I kept my core values, and I saw my mom cry, which kinda made it a big deal,” Erceg said.

Consistent family support helped Erceg find motivation to perform well in school. The personal sacrifices that her family made motivated her to always try her best, if not for her, for her family.

“I really cannot point out one person in my family that made me work so hard because every single one contributed. My parents sacrificed comfortable jobs and sleep so that I don’t have to get a job and completely focus on studying, but my siblings are what made me keep my head up. I couldn’t let my parents see their sacrifice go to waste, and I couldn’t let my 8 and 15 year old siblings see their big sister not try her very hardest,” Erceg said. 

Experiencing college searching and applications first hand may be overwhelming, but having no frame of reference for it is stressful. Erceg was able to preserve successfully, but now she thinks of the future. 

“When we came to the country, we were completely alone, but we were accepted by a community. I will do my best to support future kids taken in by this community to navigate the impossible process of college searching. I didn’t understand it and my parents couldn’t give me their knowledge, so I had to find everything on my own. I don’t want other kids to feel the same fear of making the wrong decision and not getting reliable advice,” Erceg said.

For first generation college student Diana Vargas, graduation has opened up new opportunities and experiences. Vargas sees the value in how education played a role in her life.

“Graduating was so important to me because it wasn’t common in my family. My grandparents never went to high school because they needed to get whatever job they could get in order to provide for their family whether it was their own children or siblings and parents,” Vargas said.

Vargas drew inspiration from her hard working family to succeed in high school. Graduation symbolized honoring her family’s hard work to help her.

“Education is important to me because I’ve seen life with little education, so I go to school in honor of my family members who sacrificed that opportunity. Because of them, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to,” Vargas said.

Graduation was already a special day, but the overwhelming support from Vargas’s teachers made the day even more special. 

“My proudest moment was right before walking into the gym, all of my teachers and counselors who have been my biggest support showed up JUST FOR ME!!! They literally told me they couldn’t miss seeing me graduate. It meant a lot to me because without them I would have not graduated,” Vargas said.

Vargas hopes to encourage her friends to continue their education, especially if they’re first generation. She sees the power education can have.

“A lot of my friends are first generation students, and I always push them when things get rough, and they do the same for me and others as well. We stick together because with unity comes power,” Vargas said.