Diaz with parents after graduation in cap and gown

First Generation, Lasting Impact

Like many students anxiously navigating the college enrollment process for the first time learning about financial aid, counseling, and simply finding her way around campus, Lorena Diaz, had the added pressure of being the first in her family to pursue her college degree. There she was, a first generation United States born student living in Harvey, Illinois, pursuing not just a personal goal, but a family dream.

When she arrived at South Suburban College after graduating from Thornwood High School, she wasn’t sure where to start. “I was just visiting counselors, looking at classes and teaching myself everything.  Imagine having to learn so many things on your own, let alone being a first generation student.”

Lorena says she was lucky to land at an institution that had a Latino Center, which the college had just opened. The SSC Latino Center is a place where students and parents could go to help alleviate their fears, find help navigating that daunting process, and even receive Spanish interpretation.

“When you start out struggling, it can be overwhelming since you don’t have any idea what the best pathway is,” said Lorena. “At first, I didn’t know who to ask for help, and I didn’t want others to have to go through that.”

She says mentors from the Latino Center were critical to helping guide her, and eventually Lorena herself helped foster its growth while working there and helping other students along the way. “The Center fills in the gaps and gives Latino students a place to reach out and feel comfortable asking for help and to know you are not alone.”

Lorena’s initial struggles have made her and her family appreciate the journey to becoming a first generation college graduate that much more.

“My mom and father had tears in their eyes when I graduated this May. They knew how difficult it was for me and everything I had to go through,” said Lorena.

Today, a confident, proud SSC alumnae, Lorena will be on a full-ride Promise Scholarship at Governors State University this fall, continuing to set an example for others in her family, in her community, and at her former school.

Lorena says she is ready for the next set of challenges ahead, even if it is still surreal at times.

“Sometimes I just feel in shock that doors are opening up for me now. The fact that my next two years of education will be free is an amazing feeling,” said Lorena, who took advantage of the Dual Degree Program on her way to earning that scholarship while at SSC.

Lorena smiles as she decides to take a well-earned moment of reflection first. “I am just proud of myself. That is why I tell every Latino student that they cannot give up—you have to keep fighting and striving for your goal. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.”