CLEVELAND — She may have spent four years at Kent State University, but Chazzlyn Jackson knows it took generations of work to reach graduation day.
"I can walk away content like filled and knowing that I did do what I could do on campus, making it a better place,” Jackson said in a recent interview with 3News' Isabel Lawrence.
Chazzlyn was student body president, and she graduated with honors. She also worked to combat racism and sexual assault. But while she was a model student, college wasn’t necessarily a given.
"We had our celebration for the seniors, we were talking about first-gen, that’s when I learned, I was like oh my God, I’m first-gen. I did not know this entire time,” she said.
Chazzlyn, along with her older siblings, are the first generation in their family to graduate from college. She says they don't take their accomplishments for granted.
"It’s a strong affirmation that we did it, especially being black. There are odds and systemic odds set against us, and to overcome that, and us support each other as a unit and watch ourselves bloom into these individuals, it’s amazing, it’s really amazing."
For Chazzlyn, college was more than getting a degree. After growing up in a predominantly white community, she says, it was also a chance to explore her identity.
"It was amazing to finally connect with others, with that similar background, similar cultural experiences, and exchange that dialogue and exchange those experiences."
Chazzlyn’s growth will only continue in the fall - she’s off to get her Ph.D. in sociology.
Also off to grad school is Cheyenne Jordan. She overcame many odds to graduate from Cleveland State University in just three years.
Cheyenne explains her graduation was quite a milestone in her family - her grandmother started but didn't finish college and eventually graduated in adulthood. Cheyenne’s older sister also attended college, but did not graduate. She says she faced many who doubted she would meet her goal.
"I ran across a few people like that, that have told me that I would be the one to not make it," she told 3News.
An army of friends and family was fueling her to make it to the finish line. One family member, in particular, couldn’t be there to watch her walk across the stage, but was her biggest inspiration throughout her studies in criminology and psychology.
“My brother is incarcerated, and he's dealing with a lot of things mentally, and he actually almost committed suicide a year ago. After that happened, after helping him, getting him through that, it pushed me to want to be better and want to help more people like that."
Cheyenne will next pursue a master's degree in social work, with the goal of becoming a correctional counselor, using her education to change lives, including her own.
"A lot of people may think, oh, the books are boring. The tests are hard, but passing that and getting good grades and actually focusing, it'll really get you far," she said.
If anyone knows how far education can take you, it’s Eduardo Williams, a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University.
His dad’s job moved Eduardo’s family from Puerto Rico to Cleveland when he was just 16, opening up new options for his future education.
"A lot of people who grow up in Puerto Rico, you typically just tend to stay on the island because it can be very expensive and financially it can be very difficult to come to the states and to study here," he explained.
Despite the new opportunities, Eduardo says, the new environment could have been overwhelming.
"I feared not being able to speak Spanish every day. It's my first language. I also had fears of not being able to keep up with other students who had lived their whole life in the States."
But Eduardo thrived. He jumped in and took full advantage of resources and scholarships from the likes of the Cleveland Foundation and College Now to help guide him. At CWRU, he helped guide other students through his role as an RA and his involvement in La Alianza - a Latinx student organization.
Eduardo is the first in his family to graduate from a university outside of Puerto Rico, where his parents went to college. His older brother also recently graduated from Cleveland State University - their graduation days were a culmination of a lot of work for the whole family.
"My parents knew that I dreamt of being able to have those opportunities, and they always felt like they couldn't give me that when we were living back home, he said. "So I am truly grateful for the opportunity that I had, and I really wish to pass that on to other students on the island so that they can have the same opportunities that I did."
From Puerto Rico to Cleveland, to Case. Now Eduardo is heading to The Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine, where he hopes to become an oncologist. He knows how the power of learning can create a lasting legacy.
Three students with bright futures that are only just beginning on graduation day.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on May 26, 2022.