"Many of us are first generation college graduates and come from middle to lower income backgrounds. So to be able to graduate from a prestigious institution like Harvard, it's just really a dream come true," said Erika Ontiveros Carlsen, a 27 year old who graduated with a Master's of Divinity degree from Harvard. She led efforts to plan the Harvard [email protected] Graduation the "@" symbol is more gender neutral.
At the bilingual ceremony more than 65 Latino graduates participated and were presented with a stole on stage by their family members. While most graduation ceremonies limit the number of guests each graduate can invite, at this event the students were allowed to invite as many family members and guests as they wanted. The event was closed to the public due to space considerations.
Two Harvard alumni Latino Rebels founder and Futuro Media Group's Digital Media Director Julio Ricardo Varela and well-known political and legislative strategist Laura Esquivel were chosen to be the master's of ceremonies.
Dorothy Villarreal, 21, also helped organize the Latino graduation ceremony and also received her undergraduate degree from Harvard. She said the ceremony serves as a way to "celebrate where we come from and how we got here."
Harvard is one of the world's most prestigious universities. According to its website, 13 percent of the students admitted for the undergraduate class of 2018 are Hispanic.
"They didn't go to college, but they always encouraged me and my siblings to focus on education and really stressed the fact that education would lead to a better life," said about her parents Elizabeth Salinas. Salinas graduated with a master's degree in education.
Julio Ricardo Varela said that Latino alumni like himself have been inspired by what these students have organized. "We had to support this event and ensure it becomes one of Harvard's great, permanent traditions."