First generation students among the many to cross the stage at SLU

Published: May. 21, 2023 at 4:50 PM EDT
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CANTON, New York (WWNY) - It was a sea of scarlet and brown at the St. Lawrence University 2023 Commencement ceremony.

Some of the graduates, like Brian Uceta, are first generation students. The first in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“As I look around and see the faces in the crowd who resonate with my story, I know I have never been alone, we have never been alone. To my first generation students, I see you. To my Caribbeans, I see you. To my children of immigrant parents, I see you. To international students, I see you. To Black students, I see you. To non-native English speakers, Hijab students, mi gente de la Republica Dominicana, I see you, " said Uceta.

First generation graduate James Anthony majored in Sociology and says the journey wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

“Today, you know, I’m happy that it is finally the end of the journey of four years, also starting a new family myself, so it is like I’m setting a precedent for those coming after me that college and higher education is a route that it is possible,” said Anthony.

While at SLU, Anthony was part of a scholarship program called Higher Education Opportunity, which gives first generation students a chance to pursue an undergraduate degree. He was also the vice president of the Man in Color club at SLU.

“I already have a position with the New York Police Department, and I’m looking to walk into that as of tomorrow,” said Anthony.

Also feeling proud were some graduating student athletes like Senior Class President and soccer player Grace Wagshul.

“I’ll take the community with me, that tight knit bond that everybody has here, and also SLU has just provided me with so many amazing opportunities, leadership roles and stuff that I will carry on throughout the rest of my life,” said Wagshul.

She’s headed to the Northeast to pursue a master’s in teaching.

Others in the Class of 2023 recall their freshman year interrupted by COVID-19, saying it makes this degree extra special.

“It was really a lot of hard work, and you know, figuring out different ways to still be successful and have fun, while also following all the guidelines,” said Cora Ferguson.

Hard work paid off for more than 500 students that crossed the stage.