It Took a Village
Celebrating TC’s 2016 first-generation graduates – and their families
Growing up I never imagined getting a Master’s degree and definitely not from a school like Columbia University. And yet here I am graduating. There’s no doubt in my mind that I could have not done it without your support, your strength, your prayers and your love.
That sentiment, from a letter written by Samuel Elias Ortiz (M.A., Higher Education/Higher Education Administration) to his parents, was repeated many times over at the Inaugural First Generation Diversity Graduate Celebration, held at TC during Convocation week. The emotional ceremony honored the families of more than 60 students who were the first in their families to earn graduate degrees, and was attended by grandparents, parents, siblings, children and others who came from across the country and around the world.
“While I may be the first one to go to college, I come from a line of dedicated, hardworking, generous and genuinely good people, and that is what I am most proud of today.”
—Jadelyn Martinez (M.A., Psychological Counseling)
“Because of your presence, TC is much richer, more diverse, and a more beautiful space,” Associate Professor of English Education Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz told the graduates. “Thank you for all you have given us.”
Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, read a compilation of excerpts from letters the graduates wrote to their parents, expressing love and gratitude for supporting them along their long journeys to graduate degrees. The letters testified to the strength of the families and the students’ pride in their family backgrounds.
“While I may be the first one to go to college, I come from a line of dedicated, hardworking, generous and genuinely good people, and that is what I am most proud of today,” wrote Jadelyn Martinez (M.A., Psychological Counseling).
“I want you to know that my love for you transcends the life that we live. Everything I do is motivated by the thought that one day I can provide for you and the rest of our family.”
—Patrick Gladston Williamson (M.A., Education Policy & Social Analysis, Sociology and Education)
“I want you to know that my love for you transcends the life that we live,” wrote Patrick Gladston Williamson (M.A., Education Policy and Social Analysis, Sociology and Education). “Everything I do is motivated by the thought that one day I can provide for you and the rest of our family.”
Letters from 28 students in five different languages – English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Korean – were compiled into a booklet that was distributed at the ceremony. The event also included remarks from Sealey-Ruiz, Martínez-Roldán, TC President Susan Fuhrman, Professor of Health Education Barbara Wallace, Professor of Science Education Felicia Mensah, and Professor of Education Michelle-Knight Manuel. Graduating students Matt Gonzalez (M.A., Education Policy), Aaron Neal (M.S., Neuroscience & Education), Adriana Reyes (M.S., Health Education), and Karla Ruiz (M.A., International Education Development) also spoke. Musicians Joseph Mathews (doctoral candidate in urban education) and Randolph Scott-McLaughlin (doctoral student in Counseling Psychology) performed together on the saxophone and piano.
“Because of your presence, TC is much richer, more diverse, and a more beautiful space. Thank you for all you have given us.”
—Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor of English Education
As the ceremony came to a close, Ernest Morrell, Macy Professor of Education and Director of TC’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME), read the names of each of the families in attendance, who rose to a round of applause. Morrell also told the story of the last time he saw his own grandmother – on the day he was awarded his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. Recalling that she had walked on that same campus 50 years earlier – as a domestic worker, she told him, “I went through the back door of that institution so that some day a member of my family could go through the front door.”
“No one in our family since the Middle Passage has gotten a doctoral degree,” Morrell said. “The only time I saw my grandmother cry was on that day. I thought I understood what it meant for my degree to be a ‘family degree.’ That degree was hers, not mine. Twenty years later I am only beginning to understand whose shoulders we stand on.”
– Ellen Livingston
Published Tuesday, Jun 7, 2016