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First-generation student graduates ISU without ceremony

selene ortiz
KIFI/KIDK
Selene Ortiz, a first-generation student, is graduation from Idaho State University without a ceremony due to the coronavirus.

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Graduating from Idaho State University isn’t just a triumph for Selene Ortiz, she says she did it for her family and friends.

Ortiz is graduating from the College of Arts and Letters with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Global Studies, a far cry from her original plan of architecture. She made the switch after she decided to learn more about her native language.

“That’s been the main reason why I decided to study spanish was because I think as Latinos living here, we sometimes forget about our roots,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz, a first-generation student, grew up in Aberdeen with her parents. As a teenager, her dad started working on a farm in Idaho moving pipelines. He would send the money he made back to his sisters and mother in Guanajuato, Mexico.

“One of the things my dad has always told me is, “I can’t leave you a fortune, I can’t leave you a home, but I can give you an education,’” Ortiz said.

Neither of her parents finished elementary school, and nobody on either side of her family has a college education.

“I am the first in my family. So, they’re not going to be able to see me walk and have the same opportunity as other students,” Ortiz said.

This year, nearly 2,000 students are graduating from ISU without a ceremony. The coronavirus has postponed commencement until December. But Ortiz won’t have the opportunity to toss her cap in the Holt Arena.

“It was something my parents were looking forward to. Just to see me and all my accomplishments, to be able to walk and demonstrate to everyone that I did it,” Ortiz said.

She’s disappointed her classmates won’t be able to walk either. For her and the ISU latino community, she said walking across the stage meant being able to show the world their strength.

“They had those same dreams as me to walk up there and show that we’re making a difference,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz was accepted into the prestigious TRIO McNair Scholars Program as an undergraduate and is now graduating with honors and the Outstanding Student Award. Ortiz is also a member of Lamda Theta Alpha, a latina sorority.

“I think my biggest accomplishment was probably getting the Gilman scholarship to study abroad,” Ortiz said.

With the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Ortiz was able to spend a semester in Valencia, Spain. She explored Spanish culture and studio art at the Universitat Politècnica de València (Polytechnic University of Valencia).

Ortiz wants to be a spanish professor one day. In the fall, she’ll attend the University of Notre Dame to get her Masters in Spanish. Looking forward to that graduation is a silver lining, she said.

“I may not have my graduation now, but I will,” Ortiz said.

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Emma Iannacone

Emma is a reporter for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

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