‘A lot of people don’t graduate’: First-generation students in Maryvale defying odds

The Class of 2023 walked through campus in caps and gowns, with students from kindergarten through 11th grade lining the halls.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 4:18 PM MST|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 5:41 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- In a community where receiving a high school diploma or even a college degree is rare, Great Hearts Maryvale Preparatory Academy is breaking down barriers. Students there are achieving their lifelong dreams for themselves and for their parents, many of which came to the United States as immigrants.

Being a trailblazer in her family comes with a great sense of pride. “None of my family was able to go to college, especially get a full ride and don’t have to pay for anything,” said Nadya Myers.

The same can be said for Angel Rodriguez Gonzalez, the first person to go to college out of his whole family. “I feel like I can achieve something greater than I thought I would become,” he said.

On Friday, the Class of 2023 walked through campus in caps and gowns, with students from kindergarten through 11th grade lining the halls. Kids of all ages looked up to them, clapping and cheering for them along the way. The “senior walk” is a way for the school to celebrate the students’ accomplishments. “It just shows where I started to where I’m ending to go to another part of my life that I can’t wait for,” Myers said. “I’m majoring in biology, and I want to go to med school to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.”

It also serves as a way to inspire future generations, encouraging them to make it to that point too. “I would say stay dedicated. Work hard, even when things get tough. That’s the time you need to push, and if you keep pushing, your work pays off,” said Itzel Molina Palma, the valedictorian of her class. “I’m a biomedical science major, and hopefully, it will lead to med school for dermatology.”

In the Arizona zip code 85031, only 2% hold 4-year degrees. “Especially in this community, a lot of people don’t graduate,” Myers said. According to Evolve PR and Marketing, 18.6% of high school students graduate in the area. That could be for several different reasons, including that the median household income for the area is $37,565, while the unemployment rate is 6.6%.

Nearly 83% of the Maryvale community identifies as Hispanic. It can be seen among the students at Great Hearts, including in their decorated graduation caps. One of them is adorned with the phrase, “Para mis padres que llegaron sin nada y me lo dieron todo,” which translates into English reads: “For my parents who came with nothing and gave me everything.”

Rodriguez Gonzalez says those words resonate, “They lived in a little shack and they started from nothing. They basically came up to give us whatever they could,” he said. It’s his family’s past that opened the door to his future. “I will study criminal justice and I’m planning on becoming a police officer later on in the future,” he said.

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