More than 3500 students graduated from the City Colleges of Chicago in 2022. Of those, 1700 students walked across the Wintrust Arena stage May 1 to be congratulated in person for earning their associate degree at one of these seven schools in the network. It was the first in-person ceremony for the colleges since the pandemic began.
Olive-Harvey College valedictorian Kristen Medrano said in her valedictory speech Sunday that before enrolling, she was “terrified” of going back to school.
“I haven’t been to school in over 10 years. I’m a 35-year-old mother of five, and it was terrifying to think about starting over and starting that journey again,” Medrano said. I couldn’t imagine having to go against 18-year-olds. I have a child who’s almost that age!”
But, Medrano said, she pushed through her worries quickly with the help of her professors.
“Olive-Harvey … was extremely welcoming,” she said. “I never felt like my age was a factor in anything that I did there, and I definitely let go of that fear.”
Ruth Flores, 2022 Richard J. Daley College valedictorian, went straight to Daley after graduating from a CPS high school. She said her choice to attend a city college was grounded in a desire to remain close to home and family.
“I looked at the courses and I saw that they had what I was going for. It was also Latino-based so … I just felt like I was still within my community,” Flores said.
Flores was the recipient of the Star Scholarship, which covered her tuition costs at Daley College, and is now a Star Plus Scholarship recipient. That scholarship is covering her tuition costs at UIC, where she is majoring in psychology.
“I’m really honored and honestly blessed to be able to be a part of those two scholarships because I didn’t know if I was going to have the chance to be able to go to college,” Flores said. “I also think that City Colleges gives us that chance to be able to continue our education because there’s a lot of resources given to Latino students, and I feel like they really welcome us as a person.”
Medrano said in her experience, Latinos are often underinformed about tuition resources and scholarship information that can keep them out of debt as they pursue their degrees.
“My family is not a group of people who were privy to college and secondary education. So I was blindsided with all of these, you know, finances thrown in front of me,” Medrano said. “I think that within our Latino community, it’s not talked about, it’s not spoken about enough. We don’t have enough people informing us, informing our children of financial resources that are out there and there are plenty.”
Medrano is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree at National-Louis University. Her long-term goal is to return to Olive-Harvey College – as a professor.