SALT LAKE CITY — A special celebration was held at West High School in Salt Lake City over the weekend for Hispanic students in the 2021 graduating class. Those being honored are among some of the first in their families to graduate from high school, and many will be first-generation college students.
"I'm super excited," said Jennifer Echeveste, a national honor student and graduate from West High School. "I'm so grateful to be here."
The Xipetotec Graduation was organized by local nonprofit Casa Quetzalcoatl and its founder Teresa Organista.
"I started thinking that we need a little support for the Hispanic community," Organista said. "Because some of the students don't feel like they belong."
The event honors first-generation graduates and first-generation college students in Utah's Hispanic community. But it's more than just a one-day celebration; the work for the event begins way back in September.
"We start September to March helping them to apply for scholarships, do their personal statements," Organista added.
She meets with Xipetotec graduates every Wednesday at the Marmalade branch library in Salt Lake City to ensure they get into the college of their choice.
"It's a beautiful thing, and it has helped me to get where I am today," Echeveste added. "The community and my community are really important. I love my family. Without them, I wouldn't be here right now."
Echeveste is headed to the University of Utah's honor program in the fall of 2021 where she plans to study psychology.
"I love psychology," she said. "I've been taking the course here at West High for IB and I've taken it for two years in a row. I excelled in it, and I just really enjoy it. It's really interesting and I love it so much."
From 2015 to 2020, graduation rates in Utah's Hispanic community have steadily risen year over year. There was a 3.6 percent jump between 2015 and 2017, and another increase of 2.9 percent since then, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education.
"Today, we are very happy to enjoy with all the families, not only the students," Organista said. "The mom, the father, the kids, and they are very happy, and they feel that they belong."
The graduates were given a colorful stole to remember the special day, as well as a small plant as a reminder that they can continue to grow given the care, time and effort.
"I love being Hispanic," Echeveste said. "Es un honor ser Latino."
To learn more about the Xipetotec graduation and ways you can support, visit Casa Quetzalcoatl's website.