Members of first cohort of DSU Dreamers toast graduation

The first cohort of Dreamers at Delaware State University graduated Saturday. Submitted photo

DOVER — For two students graduating from Delaware State University Saturday, their education has been a journey to the very end.

The students are Dreamers — part of the first cohort of 28 students to graduate in 2020 — and they’ll be celebrating their graduation hundreds of miles away, in Georgia and Indiana, as campuses are closed throughout the country due to coronavirus.

Through TheDream.US, Delaware State University’s Opportunity Scholarship Program provides full scholarships to undocumented students who excel academically in high school, but due to their immigration status are unable to pursue higher education in the states they grew up in. DSU’s first Dreamer graduated in December.

“My education journey has been, I think, a particularly special one,” said Estephany Martinez, 24.

From Georgia, Ms. Martinez received a scholarship to a four-year private school for a bachelor’s degree in Georgia. The school closed, however, halfway through her education.

Estephany Martinez

“After that I found out about this scholarship, TheDream.US scholarship, it was like literally within a month after the school closed up, so it was so good,” she said. “I was like, ‘Thank God, I’m able to continue my education.”

Ms. Martinez was able to complete her degree in criminal justice — a profession she has always been drawn to.

“I just have something for justice. Ever since I have been little, I liked speaking up about things and, I don’t know, that was just my passion,” she said. “I wanted to be in the field where I could fight for people’s rights, where I could fight for my rights.”

Meanwhile, in Indiana, when Juan Chavez Reynaga graduated from high school in 2012, the DACA Act wasn’t available yet.

Mr. Chavez, 26, enrolled in community college for a few semesters, but it was too much of a financial hurdle, and he began working in a factory. In 2016, he found out about the Dreamer scholarship and he ended up moving to Delaware.

He said he was drawn to DSU because it is an HBCU.

Juan Chavez

“The diversity on campus was very vibrant,” he said. “So I was very drawn to that because, growing up in Indiana, you really don’t see very many people of different colors and different nationalities, ethnicities.”

In university, he pursued a degree in psychology, with a minor in biology. He begins work as a manager for a psychiatric hospital after graduation, but he eventually plans to go to medical school to pursue work in psychiatry.

Mr. Chavez is graduating with a 4.0, as one of seven students to receive the Presidential Academic Award.

“I had graduated high school and then I was out in the workforce for a few years, so I knew going into college that I had to give it my all because this opportunity wasn’t just handed out,” he said, adding that he had done very well in high school but wanted to try harder in college. “And so even throughout the four years, I was working and going to school, so I just kind of had to prioritize my time, and make sure I had a schedule for everything and make sure I did my assignments on time, study while I still went to work — just kind of make it work.”

Growing up, he said his mother always told him that education was important.

“As I grew up, and I understood more the reason behind education, I kind of fell in love with gaining knowledge, and just becoming a better version of myself. Now, I see it as being the best version of myself through education,” he said.

Ms. Martinez said that her parents were also big proponents of her education.

“When we came from Mexico, it’s been something that they push us to, they’re like, ‘Oh, we brought you over here because there are not enough opportunities in Mexico, so you better do the most,’” she said. “In my mind, it was always like you have to pursue this, you have to pursue this. But at the same time, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t like they just pushed me to do it. I enjoyed learning. Just all around, I love learning new things.”

Completing the rest of their senior year at home while campus closed and classes continued remotely was an added layer on their senior year.

While she was in her dorm, Ms. Martinez would sometimes be struck with homesickness and wonder what it would be like to complete her studies there.

“Now that I’m home, I’m like, ‘Oh no, it was for the better,’” she said. “Because being at home, I find it so hard to concentrate. I would go to my room, I would go to the living room, I just couldn’t find a spot just to concentrate and it was really hard to sit down and do the work.”

Mr. Chavez found himself a bit busier when he returned to Indiana after leaving campus.

“In a Hispanic family, the people who speak English, they’re like the backbone of the family because they rely on them for everything — whether you have to go to the doctor, you have to go to the bank, to the store, whatever, they need you, especially because they’re the only ones that can drive, legally, with the driver’s license,” Mr. Chavez said. “So they kind of lean on us, especially me, while my siblings are working. … It was a lot more busy than I usually would have been back at school, but we made it work.”

He described reaching the milestone of graduation as a huge accomplishment.

“I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college and graduate from college,” he said.

He added that his family was really looking forward to seeing his campus and visiting Delaware.

“It’s been very impactful that they’re not going to be able to do that, but it’s still going to be a very special moment for us,” he added.

For Ms. Martinez, it feels surreal and blissful, she said.

“It feels like I reached the finish line,” she said. “I’ve done races before so I know what it feels like to have to reach that after you’ve been running for so long.”

She noted that she’s looking forward to celebrating with her family.

Mr. Chavez and Ms. Martinez added that they’re grateful to the faculty at DSU.

“I feel very, very blessed that I have the opportunity to attend Delaware State University,” Mr. Chavez said. “I want to, in the future, remember where I came from, remember that it was thanks to DSU that I was able to become who I am.”

“I’m glad that Delaware State University is following its legacy and opening its doors for people that are locked out to study somewhere else. I know that there’s going to be change in the future and we’re going to look back and be able to say, ‘Delaware State did this,’” she said. “They’re going to have that spotlight of having given that opportunity to these students and I’m grateful for it.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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