'First gens' chase the American Dream through education

'First gens' chase the American Dream through education
Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 07, 2024

DENVER — Many first-generation Americans, or "first gens," are chasing the American Dream through education.

This spring, Ariela Garcia will walk in two commencements. She'll graduate high school at CEC Early College of Denver and receive an associate degree in architecture from Community College of Denver. A strenuous dual path at CEC allows a select few students to start college while finishing high school.

Then in the fall, Ariela will attend either the University of Colorado Denver, the University of New Mexico or Washington University in St. Louis.

Ariela is a first-generation American, or a "first gen" as she calls herself. Her parents moved here from Mexico. She is also the first in her family to get an education beyond high school.

"It's also kind of like, wow, I'm the first one in my family to do it. And it brings me a lot of joy and pleasure because I'm setting a good example for all my nieces and cousins and all that," said Ariela.

"My family is actually pretty happy," she continued. "A lot of happy tears every now and then. Like today, I picked up my cap and gown for CCD. So I sent a picture to my sister and my family group chat and I was like, 'I finally got my cap and gown!' And they all called me and cried. They're all really proud of the accomplishments I've done."

Ariela plans to major in architecture, minor in engineering and eventually work as an architect here in Colorado.

Ariela Garcia

Ariela said barreling into college has taken a leap of faith.

"I think what I’m most worried about is how to navigate after high school because nobody in my family has ever graduated high school. So being like the first one, like, kind of breaking these boundaries and kind of opening those doors is kind of scary to me," she said.

But the teen said there is excitement among the nerves.

"[I'm most excited] to get to know myself better and be that kind of support system for my family for the younger generations," said Ariela.

The equally impressive Emmanuel Gio-Gonzalez is also graduating from CEC and simultaneously getting his associate degree from Community College of Denver. The student body president, National Honor Society vice president and proud gear-head is entering the University of Denver in the fall to begin work toward his master's degree in mechanical engineering.

"I want to go to DU and make an engine!" Emmanuel said excitedly.

Emmanuel is also a first gen. His family also came from Mexico. He and his sister are the first in their family to go to college. She just graduated from Regis University.

Emmanuel Gio-Gonzalez

Emmanuel is attending DU on a full-ride scholarship.

"I was super-lucky that I got those scholarships because if not, I wouldn't be going to college. Financially, there wasn't that like door for me, in a sense.  There wasn't this golden path, just a golden goal," said Emmanuel.

His family was overjoyed when they found out about the scholarship.

"They were ecstatic, man. They were praying every night. They were like, 'Oh you're going to get it. Dios mio, you're going to get it. We're praying for you every night.' And they were like, 'You got it!' I was like, 'Yo! We're going to college!'"

There is no telling what amazing things Ariela and Emmanuel will do with their lives. But their greatest accomplishment may be that they achieved the American Dream.

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