by Christopher Clymer Kurtz
Not until coming to the United States did Keyri Lopez-Godoy begin to enjoy school. In El Salvador it had been just something she had to do. But after her parents brought her to the U.S. at the age of eight, it was a requirement she came to love, thanks to a litany of encouraging teachers and a lot of hard work.
Now, so many years later, Keyri (pronounced “Katie”) has done something she once pursued against many odds: She has graduated from college – Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg – with a degree in elementary education.
It’s a huge mile marker, one she says is possible only because of “the people who have made an impact and who have changed my perspective and the way that I carry myself. It has been because of those relationships that I have gotten this far.”
A journey of hard work
When she was in seventh grade in Charlottesville, Keyri learned two things: what college meant, and her immigration status. Becoming a first-generation college student is its own overwhelming goal. Add to that the uncertainty and obstacles due to being undocumented, and many people might give up the dream.
Not Keyri, though.
“This is a label,” she remembers telling herself. “This is not going to prevent me from working really hard and going to college.”
She had already been encouraged by affirming teachers. One who “literally took me by the hand and said ‘Keyri, you are going to learn to read and write, and we’re going to do this together’” would later, at an end-of-year celebration, tell her something else she still remembers vividly. The teacher “knelt down – she was a tall lady – and looked straight in my eyes, and she said, ‘Keyri, I am so proud of you. You are my bright star. I’m really excited for what you will do in the future.’ ”
With the ongoing help of tutoring and supportive teachers and school staff, Keyri took more and more challenging classes. But as her high school workload grew and became increasingly difficult, she realized her classmates had something she felt she didn’t: academic savvy.
“A lot of the kids had parents who had gone to college, who had very advanced conversations at home. In my household, we had conversations when we were able to, but my parents worked day and night to provide for us, so it was tough.”
Ultimately, though, she earned enough college credits through high school Advanced Placement courses that she finished her bachelor’s degree at EMU in three years, not the typical four.
In high school, two things happened that would make going to college a possibility: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected people brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, and winning a local scholarship.
With the future of DACA in question, Keyri – who has plans to teach in a local school system – is certain of one thing: “In whatever it is that I end up doing,” she said, “it will be in service, giving back to people, educating, doing advocacy, and standing up and using my voice for the things I believe in.”
Christopher Clymer Kurtz is a staff writer for Eastern Mennonite University. A longer version of this article was published by EMU in early May.