For the past 28 years, Francisco Velasquez has prepped Georgetown’s front lawn for graduation.
He’s planted tulips by the front gate, red roses near the statue of Mary on Copley Lawn. He’s mowed the lawn, ripped out weeds, picked up debris, made sure the grounds were primed and ready for commencement weekend.
“We have to make sure that all looks nice and pretty,” he said. “So when people come, they can see the flowers and all is nicely arranged.”
This year though was different. This year, he prepared the grounds knowing his daughter would be walking across them.
“I will feel so happy when her name is called and she will walk,” he said of his daughter, who would be graduating from the College of Arts & Sciences. “That’s going to be the happiest day of my life.”
Valesquez has worked in landscaping at Georgetown since 1995. Within the past year, two of his children have joined him on the Hilltop: Reynaldo, who began working as a building maintenance worker last fall, and his twin, Gaby (C’23), who graduates this year.
Gaby describes her dad as serious, hardworking, a jokester, generous. A man who stuffs paper napkins in his pockets and his car in case there’s a spill. Whose coworkers call him bruja, or witch, for the time he jokingly read their palms. Who she sees mowing the lawn or planting flowers on her way to class.
Gaby remembers her first year at Georgetown, feeling out of her element away from home and culture shock on campus. On her first day of classes in the Community Scholars Program (CSP), her dad called her at 6 a.m. It was a rainy morning; the sky black. He was standing outside her dorm and told her to come outside.
When she did, he pulled conserva out of his pocket, a Salvadorean snack she could only get at home.
“He was like ‘here! Your sister made it,’’ she says. “That’s how he is.”
Reynaldo started working at Georgetown after his dad encouraged him to apply for a position. He had wanted to work in the trades since high school.
He soon transitioned from landscaping to HVAC and is working toward getting his license in the field.
When Reynaldo first arrived at Georgetown, he remembers being struck by how hard his dad worked.
“It shows you don’t take your parents’ labor for granted,” he said. “It made me respect the man more. You gotta respect the hustle. You gotta respect the hustle.”
Last summer, Reynaldo went with his dad back to his native El Salvador. His dad hadn’t been back in 17 years. Once they arrived, Reynaldo’s aunts and cousins told him how his dad had helped them all these years. How he had paid for their degree. How he had bought them new farm equipment. How he had helped their children out. How he still does.
After the trip, Francisco decided to continue the example his father set, sending money to his mother’s family in El Salvador.
“It was a beautiful thing to see the fruits of his labor,” he said. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
“It was a beautiful thing to see the fruits of his labor. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Francisco grew up on his parents’ farm in rural El Salvador. He wanted to get an education, but he was the only boy out of five sisters, and his dad wanted him to carry on his work, caring for the cows and chickens and farm.
“I wanted to study if they would have let me,” he said. “I would have been a professor and who knows. But my parents were farmers, and their life was work. That’s how I grew up working on the farm. Working hard every day.”
Francisco immigrated to the U.S. during the Salvadoran Civil War in 1981. He worked odd jobs in construction and at a pizzeria before settling at Georgetown. Until 2015, he worked landscaping during the day and as a custodian at another job at night. Gaby remembers passing by her dad for a brief minute on her way home from school, her dad on his way to his second job.
Francisco said he liked the stability and benefits of Georgetown, including the university’s tuition assistance program for faculty and staff. Working outside reminded him of the pastures he grew up in, the smell of the grass back home. He plans to continue to work until his youngest son graduates from college. In two years, he plans to retire.
On a Saturday in May, Francisco stands on the lawn with crowds of other families meeting up with their recent graduates. The sun was starting to heat up.
He wears tinted glasses and a Georgetown baseball cap. He put his arm around his daughter to take a picture. She is now the first person in their family to graduate from college in the U.S.
Francisco had waited for this day, he said. He couldn’t get his degree, but his daughter just did.
It was the happiest day of this life, he said. He looked at her.
“I’m happy for this day,” he said. “It’s a special day.”