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Determined to Succeed: First-Generation College Graduate

Roughly 12% of the 2021 class are first-gen grads; Pedro Torres is one of them.

From Quiché to English and from Guatemala to Utah, Pedro Torres has worked hard to be the first college graduate in his family. Growing up in a country with a difficult political climate, lack of higher education and high crime was not easy for Torres or his family. At age 21, he decided to move to the United States in search of new opportunities.

After receiving his associate degree in criminal justice at the City University of New York, Torres’ wife and her family convinced him to apply to Brigham Young University. Fearing he would not get in because of his GPA and the rigorous acceptance program, he was surprised and thrilled when he received an acceptance letter less than two weeks after he applied.

“My first impression of BYU was that it was a difficult school. In New York I felt like just an average student, but when I transferred to BYU, I realized I needed to step up a little bit more academically, start doing more homework and work harder.”

The academic load was not the only difficulty that the Torres family faced in their first semester. Paying for rent, transportation and schooling proved to be very financially taxing. Torres tried everything he could to work full time while still keeping up with his political science classes.

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“In order to find balance as a parent, a student and a full-time worker, my wife and I made it a habit to get up early and go to bed late. We spent most weekends doing homework or working."
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Our saying is, ‘We have to work really hard right now, but in the future, we are going to enjoy it.’”

While still struggling to balance everything on his plate, Torres stumbled across Multicultural Student Services (MSS), the office that helps and advises minority students in academic, cultural, financial, social and personal needs.

Pedro Torres
Photo courtesy of Pedro Torres.


The MSS office assisted Torres and his family in becoming more financially stable by helping him secure grants to pay for school and providing guidance and advice during his time at BYU.

LaVay Talk, Torres’ advisor at MSS, remembered when she met Torres in his first semester. He was feeling discouraged but was determined to succeed as a student at BYU.

“During his time at BYU, I saw Pedro struggle academically, emotionally and financially,” said Talk. “He never complained, but instead pushed himself to navigate the pressures of school. Pedro's humble personality guided him with grace as he navigated the competitive world of the political science major and other aspects of his BYU journey with self-efficacy.”

His diligence and hard work paid off, as he is now the first college graduate in his family.

“I am humbled by the opportunities that I have been provided with and want to help my family and others in the future by always emphasizing the importance of education.”

Torres plans to continue to work hard and provide the best life he can for his family. With a degree in political science and a specific interest in international relations, Torres is preparing to continue his education by going to law school.

“I came to the United States to have the chance to succeed and to try a new way of life. The education I have received here has become a personal asset to me and I am going to rely on it the rest of my life.”

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