Covering the Land of Lincoln

Waukegan to College Celebrates 2022 High School and College Graduates

Over 150 people gathered on the grounds of the Waukegan to College headquarters on Saturday, June 11, to celebrate the recent graduations of 33 outstanding students. All of them had been participants in the organization’s college readiness, access, and persistence programs. Twenty-one of the honorees had graduated from Waukegan area high schools. Twelve were new graduates of a variety of esteemed colleges and universities across the country.

“Every year, Waukegan to College gathers to celebrate our high school and college graduates,” said Aaron Arnold, Executive Director of the non-profit organization. “This year was extra meaningful as it was the first time since the pandemic that we have been able to gather the Waukegan to College family in person around our scholars. It was so encouraging to our graduates and their families that volunteer mentors, tutors, board members, donors, and community leaders showed up to recognize and honor their hard work and perseverance.”

US Rep. Bradley Schneider, one of the community leaders who attended the event, addressed the gathering. “Nothing is more rewarding or inspiring than seeing our young people aspire to new heights,” he said. “Waukegan to College has changed the lives of hundreds of first-generation college students and their families. Two things are abundantly clear to me from speaking to former students, program leaders, and parents. First, all these students have made their families and community incredibly proud! Second, the community backing these students on their college journey is extraordinarily strong. These transformative programs that grow both the community and the economy are exactly the kind that I want to support.”

Mr. Arnold gave special advice to the graduates. “In order to find purpose and meaning, you need to live authentically. You are each unique and special. You have a diversity of talents, passions and experiences. As you enter your next phase of life, at it college, career or graduate school , don’t let others define who you are. Proudly live your life, and humbly use who you are to serve others and make a difference in your community. You be you, you won’t regret it!”

Elisa Flores, who just graduated from Denison University, spoke to the attendees about her college experience and thanked her Waukegan to College advisor, Krystina Briones, College Persistence Manager, for her support during those years away from home in Ohio. “Though her job was not to be there for emotional support, she proved to me countless times of her love and dedication for what she does and who she does it for. Her constant care, attention, and support has shown that she doesn’t just show up, she shows out … a trait that I’ve realized every advisor in Waukegan to College possesses.”

Colleen Westerman, a volunteer mentor with Waukegan to College, spoke about the rewards of mentoring the high school student with whom she worked. “It’s been a privilege working with her. Her story isn’t mine to tell, but I will say it’s one of overcoming hardships and beating incredible odds. While I may have been helping her research colleges, complete application essays, and finalize scholarship forms “, she was inspiring me each step of the way. Though I was mentoring her, she was providing me with invaluable life lessons as I learned her story and watched her pursue her goals. And now she gets to fulfill her dream of attending college. I ‘m looking forward to continuing our mentor/mentee partnership and I have no doubt that she will accomplish great things in life.”

The 2022 college graduates earned degrees from an impressive array of institutions. Tamara Sanchez graduated from Northwestern University, Elisa Flores from Denison University, Jared Herrera-Sanchez and Jaime Blanco from Lake Forest College, Joselyne Lagunas-Ramirez from Bradley University, Angelica Linares from the University of Illinois-Springfield, Scarlet Mencia from Cardinal Stritch University, Ezau Calderon from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Juan Carlos Flores from Lewis University, Rafael Aguilera from Santa Clara University, Adriana Amador from the University of Illinois-Urbana and Brandon Antonio from Northern Illinois University.

The 2022 high school graduates will be attending a wide variety of colleges and universities nationwide. Aaliyah Decillo will study at Elmhurst College, Adrian Rojas and Kevin Rosiles at Boston University, Adriana Bahena at Davidson College, Alexi Garcia and Melanie Trujillo at College of Lake County, Amaya Collins at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Ana Alvarez and Isam Hussaini at Macalester College, Botnia Calzada University of Illinois-Urbana, Diane Romero at University of Illinois-Chicago, Eduardo Alfaro at Beloit College, Frank Sanchez at Hope College, Jasmine Chuc at Vanderbilt University, Lizbeth Castrejon at Illinois State University, Michelle Cazarez at New York University , Miguel Valdovinos at Brown University, Nohemi Agulilar at Butler University, Rosa Echeveria at Knox College, Stephanie Calderon at Northwestern University and Tania Campuzano at Lake Forest College.

Waukegan to College is a non-profit organization that helps Waukegan students maximize their academic potential and break barriers to higher education. The organization offers comprehensive educational services and programming designed to help students do well academically in middle and high school, starting as early as the fifth grade, to set students up for success in academics and ultimately, their careers. Waukegan to College also incorporates families into the programming through workshops and parent programming.

The organization also helps students gain acceptance into four-year educational institutions, secure financing, and successfully graduate from college. These wraparound services, provided by both staff and volunteers, are not available without cost elsewhere in the community.

Since its start in 2009, Waukegan to College has grown to serve more than 600 local students. The organization is on its way to a significant expansion in the next few years, aiming to increase community engagement and partnerships among Waukegan stakeholders as a way to significantly increase student participation. Seventy-nine students who participated in Waukegan to College programming have already graduated from a variety of colleges and universities across the country.

Any middle school or high school students interested in opportunities through Waukegan to College, please contact Pricilla Uriostegui, [email protected], or call (224) 628-3067. Adults interested in volunteering their services or financial support, please contact Pricilla as well.

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