A mother graduates from college and hugs her children in front of balloons. She's wearing a cap and gown.
Category: Student Experience

Title: No Longer First-Gen: A Mother and Daughter Graduate From College at the Same Time

A mother and daughter sit together on a bench.
Sabrina Pérez (C’24) (left) with her mom, Samara Perez.

When Sabrina Pérez (C’24) graduates from Georgetown in May, she’ll no longer be the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her mom did two weeks earlier. 

For the past four years, the mother and daughter have experienced college together, 14 hours apart. As Sabrina studied English on the Hilltop, her mother, Samara Pérez, took classes in social work at a university in Fort Myers, Florida.

They’d check in on each other every day, sharing learnings and stories from class, swapping tips, and leaning on each other as they navigated college for the first time.   

“We really were first-gen students together and were able to help guide each other through this journey and talk through the classic college struggles,” Perez said. “I was like, I can’t say my mom doesn’t get it because truly my mom is getting it. She’s living it.”

Samara does get it.

“When you used to say, ‘Mom, you don’t understand.’ I was like, yes, I do,” she said to her daughter. “Take a breath. You’re going to make it. You have until 11:59 to turn that in, remember?”

In May, their hard work, late nights and decades of preparation will pay off as they receive their degrees at the same time.

“It makes me emotional,” Sabrina said. “Her biggest dream is to graduate from college.”

A high school graduate stands with her family.
Pérez with her family on her high school graduation in 2020.

Sabrina remembers her mother, who immigrated from Venezuela at age 18, always encouraging her to go to college. “Education is power,” she’d say. When Sabrina was starting middle school, her parents moved their family from New York to Florida for better educational opportunities.

Sabrina learned about Georgetown through an alumna her mother babysat and worked for. She was drawn to the school’s values, its curriculum and community, and financial aid package. When she was accepted with a full ride, it felt like a collective win for her whole family, she said.

“It was like all of our acceptance,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without all of the sacrifices and their hard work. So it was such a joyous time.”

As she began school, her mother enrolled full-time in Florida Gulf Coast University. She had been taking classes off and on for 20+ years, but COVID-19 and a job change motivated her to accelerate the goal she had had since arriving in the U.S.

“I cannot be prouder of her,” Sabrina said. “It will always be the greatest gift in my life that I got to go through this time with her and see her accomplish her dream as I’m also accomplishing my dream of going to college.”

On the day of her mother’s graduation, the two sat down to discuss what it’s been like to go through college and graduate together. Listen in.

Sabrina: How are you feeling today on your graduation day?

Samara: I feel overwhelmed with happiness. I feel that I have completed a part of my life that I wanted to do for so long. Today I was thinking, sitting over there waiting for my name to be called, dreams don’t have expiration dates.

***

Sabrina: I remember being in elementary school and talking to Papa and being like, “Why is mama coming back so late? She already worked all day.” And he’s like, “Well, she’s going to school. She’s getting her degree.”

To remember that from elementary school to seeing you so many years later … was so emotional and special. You have worked harder than anyone I know for it. And I know it’s been your dream. Where did your love of education come from?

Samara: My dream was going to college in Venezuela. But my family didn’t have the resources to give me that opportunity. So when I decided to come to the United States, I feel that I packed that dream with me on my suitcase. I’m like, someday, somehow, I will do it.

I had to work my way up. I had to start learning the language. I had to work to help my family back there. Then I became a mother. I had to focus on raising you and your brother. Then I postponed it for a long time.

Today — seeing it, having it — it was like, this is what I came here for.

Sabrina: What were you thinking when I got into Georgetown?

Samara: For me, education is power. When you are able to have access to good education, you are going to have power to make decisions in life, to help others to go forward, to make a difference in the world.

So it was overwhelming. My daughter got into such a good school.

Every time I go to Georgetown and visit, I feel the community. I know that you feel safe and educated and have fun at the same time. So for me it was great.

Sabrina: That’s so good because I have loved my time at Georgetown, and I have felt so at home there.

***

A mother graduates from college and hugs her children in front of balloons. She's wearing a cap and gown.

Sabrina: How do you think it will feel coming to my graduation in two weeks?

Samara: It’s going to be such a special day, because I know how hard you have been working for this. It will be the best day of my life. It’s going to be great for you to see how far you have come.

Sabrina: I feel the same way with seeing how far you’ve come, how you put off this degree to let my brother and I achieve what we’ve been able to achieve and have this future, always putting us before yourself. Now you finally got to have that moment for yourself.

When they called your name, we were screaming and we were like, ‘That’s my mom!’ And dad was ‘That’s my wife!’ But watching you in this sea of caps and gowns and seeing your face smiling and even when you weren’t seeing us, just seeing the complete bliss and joy on your face … that’s when I started crying. …

We’re both first-gen, low-income. We knew we had to get our education paid for. We had to apply for all those scholarships. We had to perform well for ourselves, but also to continue even going, which is an added layer of pressure. We were doing this together, but nobody else was able to help us through it who was close to us.

A mother and her daughter embrace in a photo from the early 2000s.So I’m really proud of us. Despite those extra challenges that can be more time-consuming or more pressure, we still both were able to achieve our dreams. It’s the dream.

Samara: We didn’t plan it this way.

Sabrina: We did not.

Samara: It was the most beautiful coincidence.

Sabrina: It was all worth the wait.

Samara: The power of education.

Sabrina:  I’m so proud of you. I love you.

Samara: I love you too.

Sabrina: Te amo.

***

Sabrina Pérez is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the president of the Georgetown Scholars Program Student Board, an organization that provides wraparound support services for first-generation and low-income students.