photo: Margery Cedano

For many students, graduation marks their transition into the real world and start to their career and adulthood. For others, graduation symbolizes great perseverance in the face of hardship and adversity. Latino students in particular are often first-generation college graduates. In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that 2.2 million Latinos were enrolled in college, making them the largest minority group found in universities throughout the United States.  And it looks like this trend is no where near ending, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, last year high school graduation rates among Latino students reached 76.3% and many of those graduates are on their way to prestigious institutions.

As graduation season comes to a close, it’s important to recognize that although the path to success may not always be easy, it is well worth the hard work and struggle. No matter what, these Latino scholars didn’t let anything stop them from pursuing their academic goals. From Ivy Leagues to state schools, today's Latino graduates prove that with passion, ambition, and a support system, anything truly is possible.


Graciela Brinkman Hernandez - University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

photo: Graciela Brinkman Hernandez

Coming from a troubled household made the road to attending college all the more difficult for Graciela Brinkman Hernandez. At 16, Hernandez made the decision to flee from her abusive adoptive family in Las Vegas and embark on a new life. She found herself in California, Indiana, and eventually Wisconsin. After being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hernandez was homeless before she moved in with an old friend. The first thing she did was enroll in school and eventually, she completed her high school education. 

Hernandez later went on to pursue a degree at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and became the first Latina and Mexican American to give a commencement speech at the school! Now, she hopes to publish a book about her experiences and attend law school. For those facing similar obstacles, Hernandez advises that they value their education. “Education is of the highest importance. Keep striving for educational excellence. Never let yourself or others tell you that you are not good enough to keep pursuing your educational goals. Get that Masters, PH. D, Law degree, Medical school degree. People can take away many things from you, but they cannot take away your education,” she said.

Related from Vivala: Amazing Graduation Caps That Define Latino Pride


Alvaro Quintero - Harvard University

Alvaro Quintero (left) at his high school graduation.
photo: Alvaro Quintero

While attending high school in California, Alvaro Quintero set his sights on Harvard University. He and his friend were the only two students in the entire school that left California to attend their respective colleges on the East Coast. Feeling an immediate welcoming connection with the school, the Mexican American student is now pursuing a degree in chemistry. However, making it to Harvard was not easy — Quintero recalls his family facing financial hardship during his father’s unemployment. Although he had the grades, at one point attending college at all did not seem feasible due to economic troubles.

Fortunately, Quintero landed a scholarship with a full ride to Harvard, so the financial burden is not something his family has to endure. Quintero’s advice for future scholars like him is to not be deterred by where they come from. "If you feel you can't go to college because of your race or economic background, don't think that. No matter who you are or where you come from you can do anything if you set your mind to it... Never let anything bring you down, never let anything convince you that you aren't good enough, as long as you put the effort and the work into something, great things will follow."


Frankie Preciado - Stanford University

photo: Frankie Preciado

When Frankie Preciado attended Stanford University, he wasn’t alone. During his time in the Ivy League, his father Francisco worked at the school as a groundskeeper. In an interview with NPR, Frankie recalls going on trips to Stanford as a child to assist his father on campus. It was then that he knew he wanted to attend the university. However, financial pressures made it difficult for Frankie to dream of attending the school. Francisco told Frankie that his parents would do whatever needed to be done to make this goal possible. Seeing his father working alongside him on campus helped Frankie stay grounded in his academic goals. “It was great to see my dad on campus because his hard work was a reminder of why I was attending college. My parents' struggle motivated me to pursue higher education so I could help them and my community,” he told 

Today, Frankie is a first-generation Mexican American college graduate and the executive director of Stanford’s service and technical workers union. “Perseverance is the key to success. Do not let anyone discourage you from accomplishing your goals. If anyone tries to bring you down, prove them wrong with your success,” he said.


Julio Andres Hernandez - University of the Pacific

photo: Jose Hernandez

The saying "like father, like son" has never been truer than in the case of Jose Hernandez and his son Julio Andres Hernandez. As a child, Jose and his family of Mexican descent worked as farm workers in California to harvest crops. Despite not learning English until the age of 12, Jose excelled academically. After earning a bachelor’s degree from University of the Pacific and later his master’s degree from University of California, Santa Barbara, Jose went on to lead a successful career as an astronaut, according to Recordnet

Julio is now following in his father's footsteps after earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s degree in engineering science at Pacific. Recordnet reports that Julio landed a full scholarship to pursue a PhD at Purdue University, bringing him that much closer to becoming an astronaut like Jose. At the University of the Pacific’s School of Engineering and Computer Science Graduation Ceremony, Julio was hooded by his father, marking their shared and inspiring history. 

Related from Vivala: 12 Commencement Quotes To Keep You Motivated All Year



Margery Cedano - Temple University

photo: Margery Cedano

For Margery Cedano, the decision to attend Temple University was not immediate. In reality it was her last choice school, but wound up being the best choice, she says. At one point, a demanding course load, multiple jobs, and internships tested Cedano’s dedication, but by not losing sight of her goals she was able to earn her college degree as part of the Honors program at the school. Today, the Class of 2016 graduate hopes to mentor young girls in elementary and middle school by opening her own creative arts studio. 

The Dominican scholar suggests that those in pursuit of their own goals embrace their heritage and what makes them different. "Less than 10% of Temple’s 30,000+ students is an Honor student, and out of that number, I could count the people of color at the ceremony with my fingers. With. My. Fingers. There are heights that statistically look impossible to reach, but that is simply the socially constructed burden that we live with, not our reality. We may have to sleep a lot less and work a lot more, but the peak is attainable. It is not just possible—it is certain.”