Around 70 local agricultural workers found themselves in a place they never thought they would be Saturday.
With the support of their onlooking families, graduates from Cal State Fullerton’s High School Equivalency Program received their diplomas in Clayes Performing Arts Center, a continuation of the program’s effort to bring education to local migrant workers.
“Today we start new traditions,” said Associate Dean of the College of Education, Teshia Roby, Ph.D. in regards to sending migrant laborers to college, some of whom may be the first in their families.
The event’s student speaker, Laura Muñoz reinforced this statement in her address to her classmates.
Despite each student’s personal struggles, every HEP graduate has started a new journey founded on education, Muñoz said. “(The students), like me, came here to fight and overcome their losses.”
HEP hosted their ceremony in collaboration with campus organizations Hermanos Unidos y Hermanas Unidas de CSUF, Club TEACH and the DREAM Co-op.
The event’s brochure stated that CSUF’s program has helped around 100 local agricultural workers obtain their high school equivalency certificate in its first two years, while running on a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Alongside educational support, HEP also offers school supplies, textbooks, transportation and childcare.
“A big part of the program is identifying the challenges a student has,” said Program Director Patricia Feliz.
For Feliz, HEP’s graduation ceremony is the culmination of sacrifices each student’s family member has made. The sacrifices can be as small as cooking dinner or being mindful of a parent’s need for a distraction-free study environment.
“It takes a whole family for each of these graduates to succeed,” HEP Principle Investigator Pablo Jasis, Ph.D. said.
Despite only completing middle school and having to focus on work after immigrating to the United States, HEP graduate Hector Hernandez said he always wanted to further his education.
“He had that goal. He’s the kind of person who accomplished it,” said his wife, Irene Hernandez.
As he balanced work and school, Hector Hernandez found the journey to be stressful but with motivation from his wife, not impossible. Although he lived alone from the age of 16 which made hold off on his education, he hopes his children have learned that they can accomplish their educational goals, given his example.
Hector Hernandez said he strives to continue his education in engineering at the university level.
“At this point, I’m not sure how I’m going to make it happen, but I should be able to make it happen, one way or another,” Hector Hernandez said.