Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

First-generation graduates and their supporters share tears, wisdom, and laughter

College of Arts and Sciences graduates Aimee Carrillo '21 (left) and Bianca Lopez Villa '21 celebrate Commencement together during a virtual event for first-generation students.

On April 22, 2021, U of R’s First-Generation Student Programs and Campus Diversity and Inclusion hosted a virtual ceremony for first-generation 2021 graduates, giving students a stage to acknowledge, admire, and celebrate their journey through the past four years.

More than 100 graduates, family members, friends, and staff members came together to celebrate the occasion and the students’ resilience, fight, and passion that carried them through the pandemic and other challenges.

“You have shown that your resiliency and perseverance are more than enough to overcome any obstacle,” said Karool Graciano Espino ’22 in a message from Campus Diversity and Inclusion. “Above all, you have nurtured a community of first-generation leaders who will go on to change the world.”

Emceed with the help of two University of Redlands first-generation students, Carlos Chavez ’23 and me, the virtual event shared tears, wisdom, and laughter as designated presenters recognized 45 first-generation graduates.

Alyne Acosta, the mother of Zalene Acosta ’21, shared an emotional speech about her daughter's journey through college. “Over these past four years, [Zalene] has been determined to succeed in everything she set out to achieve… Me, her dad, and her entire family are extremely proud of her.” Zalene is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, and is currently studying to earn her Master of Arts in Education, Learning and Teaching.

The Class of 2021 was also honored through the words of senior address speakers Anthony Castellon, who is graduating with a Bachelors of Arts with a Johnston Center for Integrative Studies concentration in “Unlocking Potential within College Students,” and Julie Garcia, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Race and Ethnic Studies and Spanish. Both Castellon and Garcia were Students Together Empowering Peers lead mentors during fall 2019, and continue to be honored and loved by students on campus.

“It feels like just last week we were packing our luggage to experience our first week as a college student during Summer Bridge, and now we’re here about to switch that tassel to the left side,” said Castellon. “A lot of people would look at this group and say that we weren’t supposed to make it this far... and yet we made it here and will take it even farther. You all are so beautiful for that, and we’re thankful to have laughed, stressed, and even cried with a lot of you.”

He continued, “You made your college experience special. It was all you. You succeeded, and now you stand here, about to graduate for your family, but most importantly, for yourself. You will always have a support system with one another, but remember to congratulate you, because it was your drive and passion that pushed you to it.”

Other first-generation students in the room were inspired to continue to pursue their dreams: “This ceremony was influential because it motivated me and others,” said Chavez, “[and emphasized] the importance of pushing forward as an individual and to become the best.”

Learn more about undergraduate areas of study in the College at the University of Redlands and programs for first-generation students.