Graduating from college is an accomplishment for any individual, however, personally I savored the accomplishment slightly more being that I am a first-generation Mexican immigrant who overcame the odds. This with addition to the fact that I literally had been kicked out of UWM in the spring of 2012, but working with my advisor at the time, we managed to convince the university to give me a second try, allowing me to return immediately in the following semester.
Nevertheless, I want to attribute my accomplishment specifically to two reasons. These reasons have a first and last name, and they are the two fundamental pillars of my family of six brothers, and 19 nieces and nephews. They are the reason why on August 27, 1992 I came to this world in the city of Leon, Guanajuato in Mexico. They are the reasons why my whole family now has a better life here in the United States. These reasons are called, Ofelia Prado Lara, and Rito Manriquez Pacheco: They are my parents.
Being the youngest of seven siblings, I needed to graduate from UW-Milwaukee to show them that all of their effort was not in vain. I wanted to congratulate them in public, because Rito, my father only managed to complete his 8th grade education; and Ofelia, my mother, who only was able to achieve first grade of the elementary, due to her being the oldest of her family. She needed to assist her mother with taking care of her 17 younger brothers and sisters.
December 18, 2016, I need to let them now that they both achieved a university degree! This achievement isn’t just mine, this achievement is yours as well, because it was their love, perseverance and passion that managed to get me here today.
This degree (I majored in Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies and plan a career in Latino-oriented broadcasting) represents so much now, because the Hispanic and Latino students are still a minority in universities, even though the increase in numbers is clear.
In addition, there’s the current feeling of unrest that the Latino community has been going through with the resent election outcome. This degree proves that not all of us (immigrants) who come in from Mexico are “rapists,” “criminals,” or “drug dealers,” as Mr. Trump had stated earlier this year.
It was that statement which motivated me even more to prove people like Mr. Trump wrong. To show them that, although we might be escaping from the problems in our home countries, we are here to contribute to society, and not to destroy it.
Furthermore, I needed to graduate this semester being that my family had been going through one of the worst experiences of our lives when, in late July, my father had suffered a mini stroke which took away part of his vision from his left eye, while abroad in Mexico.
All I could do was to tell myself that “It was going to be ok,” not being able to really comprehend the situation as I sat in the waiting room of the emergency room of St. Luke’s on 27th and Oklahoma.
“God, please don’t take him now. I need him to see me walk across that stage. I need him to see that his hard work has finally come to an end, and that he can now enjoy his retirement alongside my mother.”
I prayed relentlessly, waiting to get the results back from the doctors to see if this was just a minor scare, or if something serious was around the corner.
Nonetheless, thank God it was nothing serious, and the doctors have been able to restore his vision slowly with treatments.
Life had placed the final obstacle in my path to determine if I was worthy enough for this achievement, being that right in the midst of this commotion, I separated my girlfriend which I had dated for almost five years.
It was this moment in life where I needed to find the courage, and strength to give it my all in the final semester of my college education, so that my dream, as well as my parents could come true.
Finally, on the morning of the 18th, I get up on the stage of the Panther Arena. I hear my name get called, and somehow, I silence the thousands of people that were in the building, only being able to hear my family cheer as I received that diploma.
As I walked down that stage, incredulous of what I had just achieved, all I could think about was, “Here you go mom and dad, here is the symbol of what your love, and hard work has achieved.”
After the ceremony, I rush to find my family, running in the sea of people to give my two heroes the hug that they deserved.
Emotionally hugging my mom first, with a broken voice and tears running down my eyes, I was only able to whisper in her ear, “We did it mom, we finally got our diploma.”
In my family, we are very proud of our city, and where we come from. It is something that at least once per week we wear on a piece of clothing in our soccer jersey, sweaters, or jackets.
I took my soccer teams flag to the ceremony, displaying it proudly. I took a picture of it and sent it to a closed group on Facebook titled, “People of Leon Guanajuato of the World,” sharing my success with the 35,000 people in the group.
Within a matter of seven hours, I’ve gotten over 1,300 likes, 25 shares, and 77 comments, all congratulating me, and stating how proud they are of having a member of our city reach such a prestigious accomplishment.
“I admire people like Armando Manriquez,” commented Facebook user Jose Gomez. “People who never forget their roots. There are so many young people who have even forgotten their native tongue, even though they are from Leon.”
It is that very thing that make some strong, because I know where I come from, and know who I am. I am a proud Panther, but most importantly, I am a rare edition of Panthers as I am a Mexican Panther, with a degree in Journalism, a minor of Business in Spanish and a Latin American and Caribbean Studies certificate.
Today I share my diploma with the two Mexican Immigrants who brought me and my brothers to Milwaukee, Wisconsin searching for the best opportunity for us. I share it with the two people who never gave up on me, and who were always there to support me, even though they have a basic level of scholarly education. Today I share this diploma with you mom and dad: Enjoy it because you earned it.