When I first started at Arizona Western College (AWC) I was absolutely terrified, I was shy and intimidated by all the change that was to come. As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t familiar with “how college worked.” However, I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people who helped guide me along the way.

Reflecting back on my time at AWC: I only took 18+ credit semesters; worked two part-time jobs; was part of the Honors Program and received the honors scholarship; served as a mentor for O.C. Johnson Elementary School; was the Matador Ambassador President; served as a member of Phi Theta Kappa honors society; Presidential Leadership Society; and I’m graduating with seven associate degrees. These are all things I never pictured I would accomplish when I first stepped onto campus.

My parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico when my mother was pregnant with me. My parents are migrant workers who have worked tirelessly to give my two older siblings and I a better life. On Mother’s Day 2006, my mother was working on collecting dates in palm trees — which can reach up to 75 feet tall. Her ladder tipped over and fell to the ground with her on it. After being rushed to the hospital and having multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy, my mother remains not able to work.

We have had relatives who are migrant workers on a work visa, come stay with us. I remember seeing them come home absolutely exhausted, with cuts, covered in dirt and sweat. This is why I chose my major. I want to tie environmental and civil engineering into agriculture. I want to search for innovative ways to best use resources such as water, labor, and time. I don’t want to replace workers; I want to help facilitate their jobs, so they don’t have to go out every day at the break of dawn to physically exhaust themselves.

Graduating to me means I am one step closer to helping others who are in the same position my parents were once in. After graduation, I will start my summer semester at Arizona State University (ASU), as part of Barrett, ASU’s Honors College, as my next step in pursuing a
baccalaureate degree in Environmental Engineering followed by a masters in Civil-Environmental Engineering.

My message to 2020 graduates would be: Although we didn’t exactly get to have a traditional graduation, that doesn’t make your accomplishments any less special. These are unprecedented times and regardless, you fought your way through and conquered! May this
challenge we overcame only make us all the more resilient. Best of luck on the rest of your journeys.

Blanca Soto is from Somerton, Ariz., and is an engineering major at Arizona Western College.