GCC Graduation a Family Affair — and a Door to a Bright Future

Friday, May 25, 2018

By Michael C. Bingham

The experience of one recent immigrant family vividly illustrates how Gateway Community College and similar institutions in Connecticut can both provide a pathway to acclimatization and acculturation, as well as a bridge to higher educational opportunities — in some cases much higher. 

Erica Chávez arrived in Connecticut from Mexico four years ago to be with her family in West Haven. To help acclimate to her new home and hone her English skills, the 42-year-old Erica enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Gateway in 2016. 

Returning to the classroom sparked her self-confidence and future employment prospects, and following completion of the ESL curriculum she entered Gateway’s associate degree program with a concentration in liberal arts. The experience, she says, “changed my life.” 

At Gateway Erica was joined by her son, Sergio Rincon Chávez, 21. Previously her daughter, Sara, now 25, also attended Gateway. For a time in 2016 all three Chávezes were GCC students, making learning a rewarding family affair. 

Now, following GCC’s commencement exercises on May 24, both Erica and Sergio Chávez can count themselves among the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2018 — and begin to chart a new course toward bright horizons of hope, dreams and success in career and life. 

Following graduation Erica will spend the summer months at the Yale Summer Enrichment Medical Academy (YSEMA), which provides a six-week math- and science-intensive curriculum designed to prepare students for success in upper-division science courses required of pre-med students. Classes at Yale begin June 8. 

Following a summer drenched less in sun and surf but in calculus and organic chemistry, Erica Chávez has set her sights on enrolling in UConn/Hartford as a pre-med major, followed (she hopes) by four years in medical school. Erica’s career goal: to become a dentist. 

“Dentists can change lives,” says Erica, who speaks from experience. As a child she endured a maxillofacial condition that required surgery on her jaw to correct, and soon she hopes her academic grounding will help her to help others similarly afflicted. 

Of the life and career unfolding before her, Erica, says, “This is like the American dream coming true.” 

Sergio meanwhile plans to enroll this fall as a computer-science major at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His academic preparation he hopes will lead to a rewarding career in information technology. 

For both Chávezes, attending Gateway together “has been great,” Sergio says. The pair even took three courses together, including algebra and pre-calculus (and received identical grades — so neither can claim bragging rights). Sergio, as his mother attests, “is really good at math. We help each other a lot.” 

Receiving their Gateway diplomas together on May 24 is just one more step on a family journey that will last a lifetime. “We’re very close,” Erica says. And learning together “has definitely helped me in my relationship with my son.”