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First-generation Denver college student refuses to let COVID-19 pandemic stop her academic dreams

Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 20:41:52-04

DENVER — Overcoming obstacles is part of the human experience. At 18 years old, Elizabeth Reyes has overcome more than most.

Reyes’ father is serving time in prison. She has faced homelessness and stereotypes about Native American and Latina women, but through it all she has persevered.

“I’ve honestly lived a lot in the last 18 years. I don’t live with my mother. I live with my friend and her family and that was a big decision to make on my own,” Reyes said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added its own set of challenges to her life. Reyes finished out her senior year with virtual classes, which was a struggle for her, particularly in math.

“I missed out on high school. I missed out on prom. I missed out on graduation,” Reyes said.

Despite this, Reyes graduated from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in May with honors. The walk across the stage she and her peers had looked forward to for years was reduced to a virtual event she helped emcee.

While some of her peers decided to take a gap year in the midst of the pandemic or attend school virtually, in August, Reyes left Colorado to attend Arizona State University for in-person classes.

Reyes says after all of the obstacles that she has overcome in life, she’s not going to let a pandemic get in the way of her academics and she trusts that schools are doing everything they can to keep students and staff safe.

Reyes has six siblings and will be the first person in her family to attend college. She says she’s trying to set an example for her siblings about perseverance.

“I feel in a way it paves the way for my siblings to look up to me and be like, ‘Wow, during a pandemic, the coronavirus, where at one point everything was shutting down and we had to wear a mask, you still managed to not let that obstacle get in your way and go above and beyond.’ I feel like with all the stuff that I’ve been through, it’s just like paving another way,” Reyes said.

Reyes has dreams of attending law school one day at a prestigious university and become a lawyer.

Now, two weeks into her college experience, Reyes tells Denver7 she feels she made the right choice to attend classes in person.

Arizona State University recently had a COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of students, but in-person classes are continuing. The school has given students the option to attend either in-person or virtually. Some days, Reyes says she decides to stay in her room and attend classes that way. But overall, she likes living on campus and interacting with other students in class.

She hopes her story will inspire others to pursue their passion no matter the obstacles they have to overcome to get there.

“I was able to bloom and blossom from the hardships that I faced in my life,” Reyes said.