The long road to the graduation stage
Raquel graduated on May 11, 2019, from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with a degree in bilingual education. She was part of the inaugural cohort of the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers. As a Charles Butt Scholar, she committed to a career as a public school teacher in a classroom serving economically disadvantaged students. But her eventual success was by no means a foregone conclusion.
“It’s been a bumpy road, to say the least,” says Raquel.
Even graduating high school was a huge accomplishment, given the challenges of having to start school one month late and leave one month early every year due to the farming schedule. She wasn’t able to attend the Edinburg North High School graduation, since she was already in Michigan. She walked across the stage at the local high school in Michigan, wearing her Edinburg North colors.
Following high school, she took a year off to work at the farm and get focused for college. It took her five years to complete her college coursework, in part because she couldn’t take summer classes.
“These five years have been intense, from transitioning here to university level and going back to Michigan to work full-time in the summers,” Raquel said. “I’ve had to really learn how to balance my academics in a more rigorous way.”
Her determination paid off, both in reaching graduation and in her personal development.
“I’ve grown a lot. I would say I’m more confident. I feel more confident in my work and who I’m trying to be as an educator.”
She credits her family for everything she has achieved, and everything she has become.
“My family is my support system, and I’m a reflection of who they are because I’ve learned so much from every one of them — my parents, my sisters, they’ve always given me advice and support. When I have hard times in school, I see their faces and I feel so motivated to continue.”
“When I graduate, I just don’t see my name on the diploma,” Raquel said. “I know it’s theirs too, because they’ve supported me and given me everything I need.”
Even though her parents weren’t going to be there, Raquel wanted to honor her family’s role in her achievement, and feel close to them on graduation day. She designed her graduation cap in bright striped hues of red, blue, green, and yellow, adorned with butterflies, and a message:
“Para mis padres, llegaron sin nada y me lo dieron todo.”
“For my parents, they came with nothing and gave me everything.”
Raquel knew why her parents couldn’t attend. She knew her parents were working seven days a week on the farm, from sun-up until after sundown in the fields and warehouse, and getting away was next to impossible. The 3,000-mile roundtrip drive would take them away from work for too many days. She also knew the other challenge: her father’s work ethic. Fito had never missed a day of farming work in nearly three decades.
“We’ve actually had quite a few little talks about it,” said Raquel. “We talked about it because they go to Michigan in April, and I knew graduation would be in May. My dad, he’s really responsible on the work front. He said, ‘I need to be here [in Michigan].’”
Both Raquel’s parents and her sister, who lives in Michigan with her two kids, decided they just could not make the trip.