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First-Generation College Student Graduates With Top Honors and Pride

Class of 2021 Abrego Future, Nicholas Academic and Sun Family Scholars Celebrated for Achievements
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When Kimberly Cruz graduates from Cal State Fullerton, she will be the first in her family to earn a college degree — with honors.

Cruz, a communications major studying broadcast journalism, is graduating magna cum laude with a 3.8 GPA. It’s not only an achievement for herself, but also for her parents who immigrated to the United States at a young age to flee the civil war in El Salvador.

“I am proud to be Latina, bilingual and bicultural — and to be earning my bachelor’s degree,” she said.

Cruz is among 40 Class of 2021 Abrego Future Scholars, a CSUF program that supports  first-generation college students from historically underrepresented backgrounds with scholarships and other services and resources to help them reach their higher education goals. These seniors were recently celebrated by the Center for Scholars for their achievements. 

At the virtual event, 17 graduating Nicholas Academic Scholars, a partnership with the Nicholas Academic Centers in Santa Ana, and nine graduating Sun Family Scholars, a partnership with the Sun Family Foundation, also were honored. 

For the complete list of graduating seniors from these programs, visit the center’s website or watch the Center for Scholars Senior Celebration video:

Abrego Future Scholars Changes Lives 

Cruz shares how the Abrego Future Scholar Program was a life-changing experience during her college journey. She plans to participate in the university’s June 14 in-person stage walk commencement celebration.

How has the Abrego Future Scholars empowered you?

I owe all of my success at CSUF to Abrego Future Scholars. This program pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Before I started my first semester, I made friends and had a sense of belonging because of the program’s summer course. I can’t put into words how much the program means to me; the mentorship shaped me into the individual I am today. As a first-generation college student, I struggled, but the staff and faculty were always ready to help. The center is like my family.

Why did you want to get a college education?

I love education and I knew I wanted something bigger for myself. The idea of college was instilled in me at a very young age by my parents. Throughout high school, I was mocked by other students because I constantly kept myself busy by joining clubs, playing sports and studying. At CSUF, the university has been my home for the past four years and will continue to be home for the rest of my life. I am graduating with no student debt and I have gained amazing experiences that will guide me as I prepare for the next chapter of my life.

What activities did you get involved with during your college journey?

During my four years at CSUF, I’ve been heavily involved on campus. I am president of the Latino Journalists of CSUF student chapter and part of the award-winning Spanish-language newscast Al Día. I’ve been active in campus organizations such as Hermanas Unidas de CSUF and served as a campus tour guide and resident adviser. I am a member of the Lambda Pi Eta honor society and Society of Professional Journalists, and a Titan TV host. I’m also founding vice president of the Abrego Future Scholars Association.

What are some of the challenges you faced in college?

One challenge that I am still facing is my mental health. I had a challenging childhood and it wasn’t until my second year of college that I knew what I was experiencing: anxiety and depression. In this pandemic it got even worse because we were isolated for a year and unable to see friends and family. Learning online also was much harder than in-person. But I have my family and a supportive boyfriend who are with me every step of the way. 

What’s next after graduation?

My career goal is to become a news anchor. I want to serve as a role model to other first- generation Latinx students who want to go into this industry. We need more diversity in newsrooms. After graduation, I plan to take some time off to focus on my mental health and heal. Despite what I was going through, I pushed through and made it. I am graduating with honors during a pandemic — and I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

Debra Cano Ramos