Days ahead of graduation season, a special program at Michigan State University honored dozens of students Sunday morning, as they prepare to cross the finish line.
The migrant student services office at MSU helps hundreds of students from agricultural worker families each year. Many of them are the first in their families to get a college degree. These seniors will walk at their official graduation in just a few days to get their real diplomas.
They’re from different states and countries, completed different majors at MSU and will get different degrees.
But they’re all united by a shared experience as children of migrants and seasonal farm workers.
“I went from carrying buckets of tomatoes to carrying a backpack at one of the premiere institutions in the country,” graduate Selena Huapilla-Perez said in her keynote speech. “You, too, have that opportunity.”
It’s because of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at MSU, which recruits the students and gives them the support they need through their studies. Support that graduates like Perez say made the difference and gave them the strength to keep going.
“I saw people who looked like me, spoke like me, had similar experiences like mine and would give me the words that I needed to hear to continue the next day,” she says.
The freshman scholars got their props for making it through their first year at the ceremony, something many students call one of the biggest hurdles in the path to a college degree.
And for the ones following in their footsteps, both at MSU and around the country, Perez has these words of wisdom.
“This idea that higher education is not something that we can do is a mentality that we often have ourselves,” Perez says. “But there are people willing out there to help us. Si se puede. You can do this.”