¡Celebremos! honors Latinx/Hispanic seniors and their families

Dozens of Latinx/Hispanic seniors gathered May 18 to celebrate their accomplishments and thank their villages for the support they’ve received during the past four years at Elon.

Growing up in Entre Ríos, a small province in the northwestern region of Argentina, Elena Luna dreamed of one day becoming a literature teacher. But life had other plans, and she was never able to finish high school, let alone attend college. She needed to work to help support her family, which later grew to include her own three daughters.

Yanela Ferrer G’23 after receiving a stole at the ¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight ceremony.

Decades later, as she sat in Lakeside Meeting Rooms during ¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight to celebrate the accomplishments of her youngest daughter, Yanela Ferrer, who graduated from Elon this week with a Master of Education in educational innovation, she couldn’t contain the tears.

“Es mucho (It means a lot),” said Luna, who flew from Argentina to watch her daughter graduate. “Mi ilusión era que mi hija esté en un buen lugar en el mundo, y lo está logrando (My dream was that my daughter reached a good place in the world, and she is doing that).”

That sense of pride and gratitude was the common thread among the stories shared during the annual event, which honors the achievements of graduating Latinx/Hispanic students as well as the contributions from their families and friends who made their Elon education possible. During the ceremony, each student received a stole featuring a monarch butterfly to signify their journey – the distance they and their families have already traveled and the opportunities that are yet to come. As each student made their way to the front to receive their stoles, faculty and staff read remarks each senior had written in advance.

As a first-generation student and a mother of two, having her family around during her educational journey meant everything for Ferrer. “I feel proud to have finished my master’s degree,” she wrote in her remarks. “I thank my family for having accompanied me in this stage that involved several nights and days of study.

Sylvia Munoz, assistant dean of students and director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, hugs Eduardo Sanchez ’23 during the ¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight ceremony.

“I dedicate this new achievement especially to my mother, who today, already 80 years old, has traveled from Argentina to see my graduation and thus accompany me as she has done since I was little.”

While COVID significantly marked the experience of most undergraduate seniors, they were thankful for the resilience that their families and the Elon community instilled in them.

If it weren’t for the support of his peers and Elon’s faculty and leadership during the pandemic, Eduardo Sanchez said he wouldn’t have been able to successfully complete his college career. “Thank you for helping my dreams come true.”

Alejandra Gomez remembers the feeling she had when she first stepped on Elon’s campus. “I had such a heavy heart,” she said while reflecting on her time at Elon. Feeling unprepared is typical for a first-generation student who didn’t know how to navigate college or what to expect being away from home, she added. But then, she started finding her way, finding her people, finding her voice. As each day passed, her heart eased thanks to the people who surrounded her. Now, “I feel very happy to have a full heart instead of a heavy heart,” she said, “with enough room left for all the new opportunities that await.”

The stoles graduates received during the ¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight ceremony feature the monarch butterfly to signify their journey.

As he listened to the different remarks, Jovani Mendez-Sandoval ’22 couldn’t help but think back to his own experience as he gave the alumni presentation during the event. He related to the seniors’ anxiety as first-year students and feeling “adrift in a sea of unknowns.” But he also related to their grit and determination to push through a global pandemic and other challenges to pursue their dreams.

“I can attest that the value of your Elon experience will be the foundation of your future success,” he said before welcoming the seniors into the alumni family and the Elon Latinx/Hispanic Alumni Network. “Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve become.”