Joaquin Castro included his guitar as a nod to his music degree in his graduation pictures. Photo courtesy of Joaquin Castro

Graduates share cultural perspectives on college degrees

By Alexa Nolasco & Alondra Tamayo, May 14, 2024

Liberal studies student Isabella Garcia will be the first in her family to graduate college. Being the first to obtain a college degree is a huge deal in the Latino community since it is seen as a path to a better future. As the oldest daughter, she feels immense responsibility to set an example for future generations. 

“My parents perceive it as a ticket to opportunities that were not available to them,” Garcia said. 

A college degree is widely regarded as a global emblem of success, unlocking pathways to societal advancement, economic prosperity, and cultural enrichment. According to Garcia, obtaining a college degree is often seen as a way to break the cycle of poverty and struggle. It signifies success and an opportunity for a better financial life. 

In the article UnidosUs, Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. The article also states that obtaining a higher education is the foundation of financial stability, access to better jobs and more wealth building opportunities for Latinos. It is also a symbol of hope to the Latino community that achieving the American dream is possible.  

“It’s also not just about getting a degree but about proving to myself and family that I can overcome obstacles and achieve my dreams, despite the challenges that come my way,” Garcia said.

Isabella Garcia shows off her special stole in her graduation pictures. Photo Courtesy of Isabella Garcia

While Garcia highlighted the personal and familial significance of higher education for Latinos, Isaiah Wallis, apparel merchandising and management student, brought forth a similar narrative from within the Black community. 

Wallis college experience is more than just about getting a degree. For him, going to college is closely linked to what his family expects and what his community hopes for.  

According to Wallis, obtaining a college degree is seen as a very important step in the Black community and they believe getting an education is valuable because it opens doors to many opportunities, and it can change lives for the better.  

According to CNN, 35% of Black Americans obtain an associate degree or higher and Black student enrollment has also declined over the last 10 years. The article also mentions many Black individuals don’t have the opportunity to attend college and earn a degree.  

The article states that “Black individuals aren’t able to access these programs because they’re being discriminated against.”  

So, when they do achieve the milestone of earning a college degree, it holds great significance for both them and their culture.  

Wallis believes in Black communities, there’s a strong belief in the power of education to uplift people and communities. 

It’s not just about individual success; it’s about seeing Black people succeed and thrive, Wallis explained. 

“People want to see Black people grow,” Wallis said. 

To Wallis’ family, getting a college degree means having a great chance to achieve success.  

“In general, I would say that my family sees a college degree as a good opportunity to build yourself up,” Wallis said.   

While getting a college degree might seem like just another step to some; Wallis states he views it as a symbol of resilience, empowerment and the promise of a brighter future.

Isaiah Wallis chose a candid pose for his graduation pictures. Photo courtesy of Isaiah Wallis

As for Joaquin Castro, he is breaking away from his cultural norm to pursue a degree in music industry studies.  

According to Castro, in Filipino culture, the pursuit of a science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics degree is often prioritized as a pathway to success.  

“Filipinos tend to prioritize college, and specifically working in STEM fields is something that I know a lot of Filipino families push on their kids,” said Castro 

Castro’s family holds a unique perspective on the significance of obtaining a college degree.  

“I think getting a college degree in my family is like a symbol of respect, and it’s like a good coming-of-age kind of achievement for a lot of people,” Castro said.  

Despite the prevailing cultural emphasis on STEM fields, Castro’s parents have been supportive of his pursuit of a music degree. 

“My family is pretty supportive of me getting a music degree because my dad was also a music major in college,” Castro said.  

For Castro’s family, it’s not just about obtaining a college degree; it’s about witnessing dedication and perseverance paying off.  

“I set out to do something that’s pretty important in my life and I finished it,” Castro said.   

This sense of fulfillment resonates not only with Castro himself but also with his family. His parents take pride in him, his pursuit of his dreams and dedication to his passions. 

Castro’s family defies cultural norms and expectations. 

“I think they’re purposely trying to go against the cultural identity of a lot of Filipinos prioritizing college and getting an education specifically in STEM fields,” said Castro.  

Castro’s parents emphasized success isn’t just about following set career paths. They encourage him to explore his interests and find fulfillment in his own way.

Joaquin Castro included his guitar as a nod to his music degree in his graduation pictures. Photo courtesy of Joaquin Castro

Although pursuing a music degree is different from what’s usually expected in Asian culture, Castro is grateful that his family doesn’t pressure him to follow traditional norms. 

Castro emphasizes that no parent, regardless of their culture, should pressure their children into going to college. He believes it’s crucial for students to be fully informed before making decisions about obtaining higher education. He’s seen friends struggle with student-loan debt because they didn’t know what they were getting into, and he doesn’t want others to face the same challenges.

Feature image courtesy of Joaquin Castro

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