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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Knox Honors Class of 2024 First-Generation Graduates

Knox College held its ninth annual first-generation celebration during the 2024 Commencement weekend, honoring the first-generation students of the Class of 2024 and their unique journeys to a college education.

The ceremony featured guest speakers Knox College President C. Andrew McGadney and Provost and Dean of the College Michael Schneider. Both expressed pride in being part of this special occasion, while acknowledging the tireless efforts of the Knox College community in supporting the students' journeys. 

Rootabaga 2024

Director of Disability Support Services Stephanie Grimes, a first-generation college graduate herself, spoke passionately about the importance of the support systems that helped the graduates grow and the significant role of parents and others in their success. She recognized the students’ ability to overcome personal wellness challenges and complete their academic journey. Grimes encouraged the graduates to hold fast to their values and worth, showing integrity in all they do.

“I honor and salute you in reaching this milestone,” Grimes said. “This is a great achievement, earning your college diploma. You’ve worked hard to get to this place of honor.”

Student speaker Sonia Lopez ’24 shared the story of her journey, highlighting the challenges faced by low-income households and the resilience required to overcome them. “These years have been challenging but fulfilling,” she said.

Rootabaga 2024

Lopez reflected on the unique difficulties first-generation students face, such as stepping out of their comfort zones to seek help and build connections. She credited her father’s advice about patience and perseverance as crucial in her journey, along with the unwavering support of Knox's mentors.

Lopez concluded with a powerful message, declaring the graduates as trailblazers who have remained resilient and broken down barriers along the way.

Following the ceremony, other Knox students took time to share their stories.

Angelica DeBenedictis '24 felt pride in making it through their academic journey alongside their peers. DeBenedictis explained that their parents married young and had children early in their relationship. Their mother pushed them to pursue higher education throughout their life, setting a goal that they strived to achieve. “She always told me how important it was to get a degree and have those experiences in life. She always encouraged me,” DeBenedictis said.

Having completed that journey, DeBenedictis says they are proud to be able to show their younger sisters that the journey is possible. Walking across the stage to receive their diploma, DeBenedictis says their mother would be on their mind.

“My mother always talked about how she wasn’t able to walk across that stage,” they added. “I’m doing it for her, my grandparents, and all the members of my family who haven’t had that opportunity.”

Kimberly Reyes '24 felt the significance of the moment set in when listening to the speakers at the first-generation ceremony. Their stories and words of encouragement made it all feel real.

“It hit me hard. I felt like, ‘Wow, I’m really doing this right now,’” she said.

Reyes grew up in a border town in Texas. Her parents immigrated to the United States and always pushed her and her brother to seek a college education. She saw their efforts throughout her life, working multiple jobs to provide the income needed to support their journey to a bright future.

Reyes said her time at Knox was initially a culture shock as she tried to find her place in a new space. Over the years, she acknowledged the support received from faculty and staff that helped make Knox a home. Coming full circle, Reyes completed research on border communities in the United States through the McNair Scholars Program. She plans to work for a nonprofit organization back in Texas following graduation and later attend graduate school.

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Printed on Monday, July 22, 2024