At convocation students receive their diplomas—a marker of their hard work and determination over the past four years and a celebration of their accomplishments with their peers. For Martha Cedeno and her two children Claudia Sanchez and Diego Sanchez, graduation has transformed into a family celebration too. Travelling from Ecuador to Mississauga to pursue undergraduate degrees at UTM, these three will now be graduating together, each with a Bachelor of Science, during the 2018/2019 academic year.

While Diego is expected to graduate in the spring, Claudia and her mother will walk across the stage at this fall’s convocation ceremony. Coming to Canada “specifically to study,” Martha and Claudia received scholarships from the government of Ecuador that helped fund their undergrad and pay for the international fees. Diego, still in his final years of high school at the time, decided to apply to UTM as well when he was in grade 12.

As Claudia prepared to apply to university during her last year at high school in Ecuador, the government switched the way students could get into university—now they had to complete a standardized test. Already possessing a previous degree in IT, or information technology, Martha decided to take the test before her children. This decision led to an incredible opportunity for Martha.

“Because I’m always ahead of things, I went and did the test myself to tell [Claudia] how the test was. In that test, I received a really high score out of all the people that took the test at that time,” Martha explains. “So, the government called me and told me that I could have a scholarship and study anywhere in the world that I wanted to.”

Taking the opportunity, Martha encouraged her daughter to write the test and Claudia also received a scholarship that allowed her to pursue her studies at UTM. Now, as the family readies themselves for convocation, each one will be taking home a Bachelor of Science in a different field: Martha pursued sociology, psychology and education studies, Claudia pursued environmental science, environment management, and education studies, and Diego majored in anthropology with a minor in linguistic and education studies.

For some students, the thought of seeing their parents around campus evokes embarrassment, but Claudia explains that she felt “excited” when she learnt that her mother would be attending the same university as her. She believes that after her mother spent years working in the IT department and then as a caregiver to her children, university was a great opportunity to challenge Martha. “[Mom’s] really, really smart,” Claudia remarks.

For Martha, she didn’t allow her role as a mother to impede on her children’s experience at UTM. “[Claudia] was already here, so I was always trying to avoid her because I didn’t want her to feel awkward,” Martha laughs.

Attending university later in life did not come without its challenges. Martha, only knowing a little bit of English upon arrival, began learning the language from scratch and even continues to push the boundaries and learn more vocabulary every day.

Now, having overcome these obstacles, Martha has been accepted into OISE’s Master Degree in education and social justice education, but has deferred enrolment so she can return to Ecuador to apply for additional funding.

Although the family is graduating together, Claudia notes that they all “have an affinity for different things.” By pursuing studies in her own interests, she hopes to maintain her independence and individuality, rather than always be “thought of as a trio.”

Reflecting on her journey in education, Martha reveals that she “fell in love with sociology” and that “education was something that has always been in [her] heart.” Adding onto that, Claudia, currently completing her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, thinks that the love for education must be “a family thing.”

When asked if having all three members pursue a degree in science spurred any friendly-family competition, Diego and his sister quickly declined that any rivalry existed and instead agreed that everyone, including their younger brother pursuing computer programming at Sheridan, functioned as a source of encouragement.

“Where we were growing up, we were always taught to try our best and do the best we can. Even if you don’t make it, you know that you did your best, but we’ve never really been into the competition,” Diego explains. “We’re always a team, my siblings and I, we don’t really compare grades. Whenever I get a bad grade, I tell my family but they act as a support system.”

Remembering the past four years at UTM, Claudia, Diego, and Martha all look to different moments that they believe to be most memorable.

For Claudia, one of her most exciting experiences at university occurred during an environmental summer abroad course where she returned to Ecuador, her country of origin. Through the trip, she travelled to the volcanos, explored sections of the Amazon rainforest, and visited the Galapagos Islands. “It was a different way of seeing [my home country]. I would never have been able to see this if I wasn’t a part of this course, I love nature and I really love that experience,” Claudia says.

Diego immediately draws on two memories. The first experience includes a trip to China that he took with his sister, his mother, and the education studies department last summer, where they taught ESL. For the second experience, he recounts his time as a coordinator for the education studies department where he helped a group of Chinese students who lived at UTM during the summer, taught the students English, and organized activities for them.

Martha enjoyed studying at U of T because it allowed her to explore a variety of subjects. “This experience of being here at U of T gave me a broad cover of different things. For example, I got really into political sociology, I became interested in psychology courses, and I really liked it. If I had more time, maybe I’d do more,” Martha says.

In the long term, Diego hopes to pursue a master’s program or explore avenues involving education, and Claudia wants to one day address the gaps in the field of environment science in Ecuador. Martha’s goal involves helping other people, perhaps through social work or education.

To her fellow parents, Martha reminds them that it’s never too late to continue their education. To those in Ecuador, Martha hopes to one day help them improve their lives.

“One of the things that we need back in Ecuador is to teach adults that their lives aren’t ending when they’re around 50, you have about 30 more years. You need to plan for that, you have to be progressive and forward thinking,” Martha says. “I think [adults] should plan to do more things and have more experiences. We have so much more to do and teach the next generation. You can contribute later in life, you can fill your life with other things, and you can find different things that interest you.”