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Grads forge new ground

HEATHER FAULAND/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Salvador Martinez, left, an electrical engineering senior, Tanya Oliver, a psychology senior, and Carlos Martinez, a computer engineering senior, are graduating this semester. They are all the first people in their families to earn a college degree.
By Alexis Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
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First in families to earn degrees

When Carlos Martinez moved to Tucson from Mexico at the age of 9, he didn't speak any English.

Next week, the 21-year-old will graduate from the UA with a degree in computer engineering. Alongside him at the ceremony will be his older brother Salvador, 23, who will receive a degree in electrical engineering.

The two will be the first in their family to graduate from college.

"It's been a long journey," Carlos Martinez said. "It feels awesome."

The Martinez brothers are two of just over 100 December graduates who will attend tomorrow's fourth annual Celebration of Achievement, a pre-commencement ceremony hosted by the UA's Department of Multicultural Programs and Services to recognize underrepresented and first-generation graduates.

A little over 1,000 students representing ethnic minorities, first-generation graduates, income-eligible students and students with disabilities were invited to participate in the event, said Monica Vega, program coordinator for multicultural programs and services.

The students who chose to participate in the ceremony will have the chance to be recognized individually before their peers and family members.

"It's really for the students," Vega said. "It's an intimate event that allows them to be individually recognized."

For Carlos Martinez, the day is about more than personal recognition; it's an opportunity to say thank you to his family.

He said there were semesters when his family "barely made it" financially, but they never gave up.

Carlos Martinez said neither of his parents finished high school, and it was always important to them to see their sons go to college.

"They were always pushing us, saying, 'You have the opportunity to do something with your life,'" he said.

Carlos Martinez, who had never even owned a computer when he entered college 4 1/2 years ago, said he now hopes to go to work for a software company to help support his family.

He said his goal is to enable his father, who has worked in construction for years, to retire.

"We want to give back to our parents because they've always helped us," he said.

Carlos Martinez said about 100 of his family members will come from Mexico to attend tomorrow's ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center.

"They're so excited," he said. "It feels so good. We get to show them thank you."

Tonia Oliver will also be the first person in her family to graduate from college.

The 25-year-old, who grew up in Phoenix, will receive a degree in psychology next week.

"I always wanted to go to a university," Oliver said. "It never occurred to me not to."

Oliver said her twin sister will graduate from ASU next year.

"My parents were behind my sister and I 100 percent," Oliver said. "They wanted more for us."

Oliver said the support she's gotten from her family has been overwhelming.

"They're all very excited. I didn't anticipate this much family to be involved," she said. "It's just surreal."

Oliver said family members from the town of Whiteriver on the White Mountain Apache reservation, located about four hours north of Tucson, will travel to the UA for tomorrow's ceremony. She said she's glad that she has the opportunity to participate in a smaller pre-commencement ceremony.

"I think it's a good idea because you don't often hear about first-generation graduates," she said.

At 45 years old, Jean Marie Marquez, who will graduate with a Spanish degree, will also be the first in her family to graduate from college.

Marquez earned an associates degree in business administration at San Diego Mesa College in 1991 before taking a break from school to start a family.

She said she decided to return to school two years ago because she had always had the desire in her heart to go back.

"I've always loved school," she said. "I did it for me; it was my little present to myself."

Marquez runs a private children's playgroup on her farm in Willcox, Ariz., that focuses on teaching children to speak Spanish.

She said she hopes to expand her class size and work on opening her services to the public after graduation.

Marquez also said she wants her graduation to encourage her 10-year-old son to pursue his own education.

"I'm hoping to set a good example for all of my family," she said.

Marquez said she is looking forward to interacting with people from all different backgrounds at the Day of Achievement.

Tomorrow's ceremony will incorporate different cultural traditions, with performances by an African drum group, Philippine dancers and a mariachi band, Vega said.

"It's a way to pay tribute to their individual cultures," she said.

Tomorrow's ceremony will also include a PowerPoint presentation featuring photographs and written personal statements from each of the participating students, and each student will be recognized individually and presented with a sash.

Speakers at the event will include President Peter Likins, John L. Taylor - former dean of the College of Education - and a professor of educational administration.

The ceremony will take place from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom and is open to the public.

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