Celebrating heritage, family and accomplishments at ¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight

Nineteen Latinx/Hispanic seniors and their families came together on May 23 to celebrate their roots and thank those who supported them at Elon as part of “¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight.” 

As Manny Sanchez ’24 mingled with fellow soon-to-be Elon graduates on Thursday afternoon, he couldn’t contain the sense of accomplishment that came over him. Minutes earlier, he had received a stole that signifies his pride as a Latinx/Hispanic student during “¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight.”

The ceremony, an annual tradition that honors the achievements of Latinx/Hispanic students and the contributions of their families and friends, includes reflections from graduating seniors about what the past four years have meant for them and their loved ones.

Taking part in the ceremony provided a full-circle moment for Sanchez, who as a student worker in Elon’s El Centro de Español has been involved in planning the event for the past several years.

“Now it’s my time,” he said with a big smile. “I feel a lot of pride.”

He also felt a sense of relief knowing that all the hard work and obstacles he had to overcome to get to this point were finally in the rearview mirror. He is heading to Charlotte, N.C., to serve as a consultant for EY after graduation.

Manny Sanchez ’24 during the “¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight” ceremony

“No one talks about how challenging it is to find different circles, constantly code switch and seek the resources one needs, especially with having few people that care enough to guide you,” Sanchez wrote in his reflection. “Pero, sí se puede … Feel accomplished. Feel pride. You’ve made it, you’ve done it. Life has thrown so many stones at you throughout this time. However, you’ve converted them into this milestone. So let’s celebrate it.”

Like Sanchez, many students reflected on the resilient spirit and determination that allowed them to forge their own path. They thanked the people who made a difference in their journeys and the support they found on campus through programs like the Odyssey scholars and El Centro, which is part of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education.

“When I began my four years at Elon, I was ecstatic to learn and grow, but I was still unsure of myself and my abilities,” wrote Valentina Echavarría, a native of Colombia who is graduating with a degree in environmental and sustainability studies. “It was my mentors who welcomed me and put their faith in me, gave me the challenges I needed to see what I was capable of, who taught me and coached me in both life and academics, who have become integral to who I am as a person and how I show up in the world.”

But above all, the graduating seniors talked about the important role their families have played in their college journeys and beyond. They talked about their relatives’ unwavering support, words of encouragement and sacrifices made so they could attend Elon and pursue an education, an opportunity many of their ancestors never had.

“‘Tienes que echarle muchas ganas en la vida mi niña, tienes que hacer lo que tus padres no pudieron, porque con una educación vas a ir lejos en la vida.’ This phrase, imbued with hope and wisdom, was whispered to me in moments of doubt and it fueled my drive to forge ahead,” Giselle García-José wrote. “It reminded me that my education is not just for me, but a bridge to opportunities that our parents and grandparents envisioned but could not reach.”

Alanis Camacho Narvaez ’24 receiving her stole during the ceremony.

During the ceremony, the graduating seniors received a stole designed by a former student featuring monarch butterflies, which signify the journey Latinx/Hispanic immigrants have made in this country, a journey that for some included a stop at Elon. As part of the charge to the students, Alanis Camacho Narvaez ’24 encouraged her fellow seniors to take time to be present in the moment, to see the beauty in taking it slow and to not measure success and happiness by what they do after graduation.

“The outside world does not look like Elon, but our experiences here and the things we have learned from it are in our toolkit, and we are better for it,” she said. “Go walk into new spaces and live new experiences all without forgetting your heritage. With this in mind, I find it fit to say, vuela tan alto como puedas sin olvidar de donde vienes.”

During the ceremony, the graduating seniors received a stole designed by a former student featuring monarch butterflies.

In her remarks, University President Connie Ledoux Book reflected on the significance of the colorful stole, and how it symbolizes the bright impact of the Latinx/Hispanic community at Elon. Having started their academic journey amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she emphasized the importance of learning from struggles, for it is during challenging times that community bonds are strengthened.

“I hope today you feel a great sense of pride in your accomplishments at Elon during your time here, and I also hope you feel a great sense of pride in how your culture and your heritage has impacted your understanding of your time here,” she said. “We’re fortunate that you chose Elon, and because of that experience you’ve allowed us the opportunity as a community to learn from each other, to learn from you and share some of that culture and heritage with our campus.”