This year, more than 3,000 people earned degrees from the University of Chicago—marking the end of one intellectual journey, and the beginning of another.
Their time in Hyde Park was transformative in different ways. Some entered the undergraduate College, and learned more about themselves as they grew into adulthood. Others started families and began careers. A few shook hands with a former president.
These are just a few of their stories.
Building a family during a pandemic
Victor Cedeño immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2001, not long after 9/11. As he began his new life in Iowa, 12-year-old Cedeño wondered if he’d ever learn to speak English.
Before long, though, he was ordering for himself at McDonald’s and immersing himself in school; his eighth-grade civics class sparked a love for the American legal system that would ultimately guide his career. In college, he studied political science and psychology, and he became an American citizen. He earned a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he focused on social and urban policy. And, after several years of work in public policy, he headed to the University of Chicago Law School, where he focused on the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and participated in the Latinx Law Students Association.
From the start, his Law School classmates were a key part of his experience.
“We have substantive discussions about things going on in the world and in the law—even once we became separated [by quarantine] we continued in group messages,” he said. “These are classmates who are going to be shaping the field of law in different ways. It’s been challenging and nourishing to be a part of those conversations.”
During his second year, Cedeño’s wife, Allie, became pregnant with their first child—a son, Samuel, who was born in February 2020, three weeks before the University of Chicago and much of the world shut down.
Suddenly, Cedeño and his wife were isolated at home with their newborn, wrestling with the realities of a dawning pandemic that would separate them from extended family and, this past January, claim the life of his beloved Nani—his grandmother. Cedeño found ways to keep up with school despite new parenting duties, sleep deprivation, and the percolating worries and grief that COVID-19 had ushered in. He planned remote group work around his son’s nap schedules, and sometimes cooked family meals while attending remote classes. He learned when to focus on work, and when to focus on home.
He Zoomed daily with his mom and other relatives, and he volunteered for the Moderna vaccine trial, in part to ensure adequate Latinx representation.
“Losing my grandmother … and being a new dad and [being part of] the Moderna trial—a lot of what you saw in the news was happening in [my life],” Cedeño said. “It felt really personal.”