For undocumented graduates, a dream day
By Cynthia Lee June 15, 2012
Happy graduates in their black gowns and mortarboard were everywhere on the UCLA campus today, but some of the broadest smiles could be seen across the street. At St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 18 undocumented graduates were having their own celebration of a new life free from fear of deportation.
In the church courtyard crowded with well-wishers, including Chancellor Gene Block and his wife, Carol, members of IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) exchanged hugs and news about what President Obama had just announced – that they and others who were brought to this country as children and went to school alongside their American classmates were no longer under the threat of deportation. They also would be allowed to obtain work authorization.
The mood was over-the-top jubilation. On their graduation day, they had been given a future in this nation. One graduate wore her sentiments, “Undoc. and unafraid,” squarely on her mortarboard. Cameras, including those belonging to news media, were everywhere to record the joy.
"I couldn’t believe it," said another graduate, Arlete Pichardo, who will be graduating tonight with the College of Letters and Science in history and ethnic studies. "To know that I never have to watch my back or be afraid to be separated from my mother … that means everything to me." Her dream of being a teacher, she said, could now become a reality.
Many were woken up early this morning by calls from friends with news they couldn’t quite believe. "I was half asleep. When it sunk in, I felt so happy — happy for me and for my family," said Jose Quintero, who was born in Nicaragua and was brought to the United States when he was young. Excelling academically, he entered UCLA in 2006, only to drop out for a year until he could earn the money to continue his studies. He is graduating with honors with a degree in mechanical engineering.
"It’s taken me six years to graduate. That’s one-fourth of my life," said Quintero. "It’s been a little tougher than I thought it would be – trying to pay rising tuition, holding multiple jobs and living off free food when I could get it. But now it’s worth it," said Quintero, beaming. He and 10 other undocumented UCLA students joined a coalition of groups this morning in front of the Federal Building downtown to show their support for the new order, but also to continue their demands for more. "We are still hoping to get drivers’ licenses and work permits. There are still a lot of questions we have to ask and get answers to. But this is definitely a big step forward."