“This, right here, is my tribe,” said Mariel Buque, gesturing at her family. “We just got our doctorate in Counseling Psychology.”   

Buque (Ph.D. ’19) was kicking off Teachers College’s third annual First Generation & Diversity Graduation Celebration. Held during Convocation Week under the banner of “Equity, Inclusion, and Empowerment,” the ceremony honored the determination of 114 first-generation TC students now holding Master’s and Doctoral degrees who are the first in their families to earn a college degree.

“Our institution would be much poorer without your presence,” said TC President Thomas Bailey.   

But the graduates, in turn, paid tribute to the parents, siblings, extended family and friends who, in the words of Associate Professor of English Education Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, powered the wind of the “financial and emotional support beneath (their) wings.”

“Our degrees are marked with our names,” said Buque, who, with her father dabbing his eyes, recounted the support her family gave her as she struggled through her first year in the College’s Counseling Psychology doctoral program. “But you, family and friends, are the real MVPs of this journey. And you are the most deserving of this moment.” 


Our degrees are marked with our names. But you, family and friends, are the real MVPs of this journey.

—Mariel Buque (Ph.D. '19) 

Diana Cervantes Martinez (Higher & Postsecondary Education) and Paola Muñoz Rojas (Anthropology) represented the first-generation master’s degree awardees.

“This,” Rojas said of Teachers College, “is the place my father had us reach for.”   

TC faculty who themselves were the first in their families to attend college added their own thoughts.

This is the place my father had us reach for.

—Paola Muñoz Rojas (M.A.'19) 

“If you’re like me, you spent many years trying to prove your self-worth, calm the self-doubt, ignore and confront all the haters and learn whose opinions and evaluations really matter,” said Haeny Yoon, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, who urged the graduates to “revel in the magic of being different.”

Each first generation-graduate, Buque said, brought to TC’s Convocation a “story of the common struggle” – one of isolation without “a guide to help you navigate the inner workings of the ivory tower."

“It’s the story of the immense pressure we put on ourselves to be the first in our family to, quote-unquote, make it. It’s the story of pain mixed with pride and justice mixed with fearlessness. But most of all, it is the story of triumph.”