As a First Gen Student, I’ve Always Dreamed of the Day My Parents Would Watch Me Graduate

For as long as I can remember, all I’ve ever dreamed about was going to college. By accomplishing this, I would make my parents proud, be able to study what I love, make friends I would remember forever, and maybe change the world someday.

College graduation has always been my dream. (Twenty20 @nicole_rohrer_photo)

I have long dreamed of graduating from college

I’m a first generation college student and my life’s main goal has been for my parents to watch me cross the graduation stage, wearing a cap and gown (that’s too big on me), see me shake the university president’s hand, and cheer as I was handed my diploma. 

Now all of that has changed. I don’t want to point any fingers butit’s the outbreak’s fault.

When the virus first made headlines around December, I didn’t worry about it coming to America. I just assumed it wouldn’t. Then it arrived here, and I still wasn’t worried. Everyone said, “Wash your hands. It’ll be fine.” And contrary to statistics on how often men wash their hands, I always wash my hands. So, again, not worried. 

Until there were three cases in Florida, two in my county. Now it was time to freak out.

I work at Publix Super Markets, which is the one place every single person seems to go whenever the state goes into any kind of prep mode. I’ve seen the way people shop for hurricanes; the virus was going to be similar when it came to hoarding. Except, now people are also worried about catching a deadly disease in addition to being worried about getting their food, water and toilet paper.

My job is essential so I keep working and worrying

Since my job is considered essential, I don’t have to worry about a paycheck. I just have to worry about getting sick. I worried even more when an article from the Tampa Bay Times came out saying someone living in the apartments four minutes away from the store where I work just tested positive.

Suddenly, I had all the thoughts. They could’ve been in my store shopping! I might have helped them with their groceries! Do I have the virus? Do I need to work? Should I stay home?

I decided that now is the time for me to do my best for my community. I still go to work. I still wash my hands. I keep a safe distance from customers (and employees), and as soon as I got home, my uniform gets cleaned, while I head straight to the shower.

But I have to admit: With all of the stress of the pandemic itself, worries of getting sick or seeing a loved one suffer, plus people buying excessive amounts of things and clearing out shelves, I am overwhelmed. Many shoppers have not been kind to us; just this week, a customer yelled at me because there weren’t any Doritos or toilet paper on the shelves

People seem to forget that grocery store workers, no matter what department, are human beings too. And we have feelings. We are trying our best to provide for your family and make sure you have everything you need for quarantine. As we worry about your family, we worry about our family and other things as well.

I worry about my family and yours

Many customers at my store assume that the only thing I have going on in my life right now is working at Publix. No, I am a senior taking five classes and working two part-time jobs plus an internship. My classes were suddenly moved online, and I no longer have the same access to my classmates and professors who were a vital part of my daily existence. My commencement ceremony has been postponed, and who knows if anybody will walk across the stage for their diploma. The economic impact on businesses will likely affect companies’ future hiring—right at the time I’ll be graduating from college and hitting the job market. 

And these are just a few of the issues I am facing outside of my job and they don’t even begin to touch on the emotional stress I have felt anger, sadness, fear. . . and hope. We mustn’t forget hope. 

While the virus spreads, we must remember to spread hope and human kindness. You know what you’ve been feeling, the situations you’re facing, the hardships and heartache. Now just imagine that every other person is thinking and feeling and struggling the same way. So please, I am asking for you to be kind to the workers at the grocery stores because we are trying our best. A smile is a simple gesture that can make our day and show how much we are appreciated. 

And while you’re spreading hope, send some my way, that I can still walk across that stage and make my parents proud. It’ll be that easy to make my dreams come true. I’ll be sure to spread some hope your way too; I promise to smile, and to be kind—and to keep washing my hands.

Originally from New York, Bernard Ramos is a senior at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he is studying English and professional writing. Bernard is currently the Arts & Culture Editor for The Lions’ Pride Media Group. After graduation, Bernard hopes to get his Master’s in counseling to raise awareness about mental health.

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