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99 Pass Metro Finish Line

The class valedictorian at Metropolitan Business Academy — which offers programs in allied health and science, digital arts and technology, law and political science, and finance — celebrated more than just her academic success. For Lesly Gonzalez-Benitez, graduating was a triumph for all undocumented students like herself who have found ways to embrace their identities despite hardship.

“Your status does not define you,” said Gonzalez. “It will not bring you down but empower you to succeed.”

Gonzalez-Benitez outed herself as an undocumented student in her sophomore year, a decision which met some resistance from her parents. From there, her journey advocating for other undocumented immigrants began, which she recounted to the class of 99 graduates in dark blue robes.

“I became fed up with the idea that those who are undocumented have to live in the shadows,” said Gonzalez-Benitez.

During high school, Gonzalez-Benitez attended a fine arts program at the local Educational Center for the Arts. There, she worked on art which explore issues like immigration and detention centers.

Students also listened to poet Reginald Dwayne Betts give a keynote speech about his incarceration at 16 and journey to graduating from Yale Law School.

“I was the first person in my family to go to prison,” said Betts. “Then 12 years later, I was the first person in my family to go to college.”

Betts’ advice: You don’t need to know what is happening tomorrow to care about it.

See the full Facebook livestreams below.


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