First-generation high school graduate Melesio Rodriguez turned his tassel Monday night as he set off for a new challenge at Southern Connecticut State University—avoiding crippling debt in the process.
Mexican-born Rodriguez was one of 78 seniors who received diplomas at the Sound School graduation ceremony held on the school’s front courtyard, overlooking the New Haven Harbor. He was one of 1,061 seniors who are scheduled to receive diplomas this week.
Many of those graduates face a tough choice as they head to college: How to avoid joining a “boomerang” generation of students amassing crippling levels of debt. Rodriguez’s tale shows that even top-performing students have to weigh academics versus finances.
Rodriguez’s mother emigrated from Mexico almost 20 years ago to give Rodriguez and his two brothers a better life. He graduated Sound with honors.
As a first-generation student, Rodriguez said there’s “a lot of pressure” to accomplish something. His mother, aunt and uncle were there to help him every step of the way.
His father was not in the picture when Rodriguez was growing up. He said that gave him more motivation to succeed and attend college.
Rodriguez graduated Sound with honors. He was accepted to the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University. He was also awarded scholarships from New Haven Promise and the New Haven Scholarship Fund, but not enough to cover the full cost of college. He ultimately decided to attended Southern Connecticut University because, he said, he likes its nursing program; it’s close to home ... and he received the most financial aid there. Commuting will also save him thousands of dollars.
At Monday night’s graduation, Rodriguez said he will always cherish Sound’s commitment to encouraging individuality among students.
“Be yourself and be unique. Don’t follow the crowd,” Rodriguez said. “Individuality is very important; embrace it.”