On Sunday, UC Merced student Anna Ocegueda will become the first person from her family to graduate from a four-year university.
Ocegueda, 22, wanted to pay tribute to her parents and acknowledge her roots with a photo she recently posted on Twitter. She didn’t expect the tweet to go viral.
The photo of Ocegueda wearing her graduation cap and gown while standing in the fields where her parents work has collected over 16,000 likes and close to 4,000 retweets. The caption that ran with the photo translated from Spanish reads: “Because of you and for you.”
“I expected to get some likes from my friends and people I know in the Central Valley,” Ocegueda said. “I didn’t expect to get reactions from other people. I woke up the next morning and there were so many notifications on my phone. I had to mute my Twitter notifications because they were blowing up my phone.”
Ocegueda’s parents came to the United States from Mexico more than 20 years ago as undocumented migrant farm workers. Her parents would pick oranges in the winter and spend their summers picking grapes and blueberries. They raised five children.
“My parents came here for a better future and a better life for their children,” Ocegueda said. “The educational opportunities weren’t great. My parents encouraged me to better my education so I wouldn’t have to work in the fields like them.”
Ocegueda’s story resonated with so many people.
Even UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland tweeted: “A powerful testament to what is possible with perseverance, hard work, and determination. Congratulations to you and your family. See you on the stage, Anna!”
Ocegueda received financial aid to help offset some of the costs of paying her way through UC Merced. She took out student loans to cover the rest.
“My parents barely make enough to sustain themselves, but I always say I couldn’t do this without their help,” she said. “Without their encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Even though they weren’t able to help financially, they helped in other ways. There were days I felt like giving up, but they reminded me I’m doing this to better my future.”
She was caught off guard by all the comments, especially from people she had never met.
“Such a powerful image,” one commenter posted.
“I love this so much, it hit home for me,” another post read.
“A few of the comments made me cry,” Ocegueda said. “There were people who said that picture hit home because their parents are also undocumented and work in the field. I had strangers telling me they were so proud of me.”
Ocegueda will receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in Spanish.
She wants to work with kids who have autism, or other psychological disorders. She says she also stuck through college for her three older siblings, who were born in Mexico, and didn’t have the same opportunities as her.
“I am so proud of her. Anna’s photo, and her story of perseverance in the face of adversity, is a powerful testament to the social mobility UC Merced provides its student population,” Leland said. “Anna embodies characteristics shared by the many remarkable students that make UC Merced such a special campus, and her photo serves as an inspiration for future students as well.”
One of the special moments that came out of her viral tweet was Ocegueda being able to read some of the comments people left to her parents.
“I would read them updates and every comment,” she said. “For them, it felt nice to be acknowledged. I tweeted that picture more for them than for me. My dad got super emotional with how people were so proud of me.”