PHOENIX - More than 150 college graduates were honored in Phoenix on the night of May 25, and they are all part of a program called Education Forward Arizona, which serves students in underrepresented areas.
Through the program, the students were able to graduate from major universities across the state, like Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, on full-ride scholarships. They were also provided with mentors along the way.
The Class of 2022 was Education Forward Arizona's largest graduating class in 14 years.
"These students are examples of those students who have worked hard, and come from the entire state," said Education Forward Arizona Executive Vice President Dr. Richard Daniel. "Many of them are first in their families to attend college, and move on to professions that many didn’t think that they can achieve."
Valentino Mejia was one of the 150 students in the graduating class.
"I was raised by a single mom my whole life," said Mejia. "My mom was my only support network, and she would say 'Mijo, go to school, go to college. You're smart, you have it in you, and I don't want you to struggle like me.'"
The 21-year-old says his humble beginnings with his mother was a motivation for him to strive for better.
"There were times when I would get so upset when I wouldn't have nice things, and my friends would," said Mejia. "I didn't know how to understand that. Like, why does my family live in poverty? My mom works a minimum wage job, making $7 a hour, and has to put food on the table for us, and I what I saw, through her challenges, I wanted to make sure I created a life for myself where I was going to be happy and financially stable."
Now, Mejia is on the path to success. Thanks to the program, he recently graduated from Arizona State University on a full scholarship.
"This degree is not for me, but for us, because we worked hard and she was my support as well, and I would not be here without her as well," said Mejia.
Mejia graduated with a degree in communication, and he recently accepted a job in recruiting.
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