At the end of my junior year in college, I attended graduation to see off my friends that were a year older than me. When the college president read off the name of one of my friends, a first generation African-American student from a small South Carolina town, an eruption came from the crowd, a surprise at an occasion that usually only drew polite claps at our college. My eyes scanned the crowd until I saw my friends’ family up and clapping, declaring their excitement over his graduation. I cried.
He and I worked together in a summer program and had become close friends. He was from a large family and an older brother of his was in prison. An incredibly gifted writer, when his brother left, his talking was interrupted by stutters, self-consciousness and grief taking root. And, yet, he persevered, his brightness and kindness far more noticeable than his stuttering ever was, although it took him a while to realize that.
That summer, we worked together again, and I told him how I felt watching his whole family cheer. He was the first to go to college, and when he walked across that stage, he carried all of them—all of their hopes and sacrifices, struggles and triumphs– with him. A year later, I did the same thing with my family—just the five of us total since my parents’ roots were in Puerto Rico—at my side. I remember how I wanted that moment to affirm for my parents the difficult choice they made to stay in the United States and allow me to be educated here. I wanted every difficult moment that they had experienced, every unkind word that had been said to them, every sacrifice to somehow be acknowledged and outweighed in that moment. I walked across the stage that day not just proud of the decisions and choices I had made to get myself to that place, but ever grateful to the people who had helped me get to that place, my parents most of all.
I was reminded of those two college graduations the other day when an e-mail from a woman who participated in the research for Hijas popped up on my computer screen.
She had just heard about Circle de Luz and this is what her e-mail said: I will be graduating from college at the age of 34 with my BA in six weeks, the first in my family. I am feeling many things as this nears, but mostly I am feeling the need to return the blessing. I cannot think of a better way than through Circle de Luz. My heart feels full to know about this program. Thank you.
When I read her e-mail, my eyes brimmed with tears at the way that not just individuals are changed by the power of education, but at the way education empowers whole families. The greatest gift I was given as a girl was the unselfish decision my parents made to stay here in this country and allow me to be educated. I am not sure that I can ever repay them for a lifetime spent without their parents or siblings at their sides, for the way that some people did not make it easy for them, for the discomfort of living in another world and another language. And so, with the Circle, I do the only thing I know how, I embrace my family with my motion, join hands with those around me, and prepare to help a future generation of young women know the joy and power of crossing that stage with their literal and figurative families cheering for them from the wings.
– Rosie Molinary, Circle de Luz Founder