WOODSTOCK, Ill. — If walls could talk, each one would tell a story in the Diaz home, stories of love, perseverance and things handed down, from generation to generation.
A hardworking family with roots in Mexico, the Diaz clan moved to the United States searching for better opportunities.
“There definitely was a lot of uncertainty … fear and anxiety,” said Marlen Diaz, a senior at Woodstock North High School. “My parents have a lot of friends who also undocumented and I see that they have very young kids and I think of myself at that age and how worried I was about deportation and raids and that stuff.”
Fear became motivation for Diaz when she learned that Woodstock North was offering a chance to earn both her high school diploma and a college associate’s degree all at once.
“Marlen was one of 21 kids to sign on,” said District 200 asst. Supt. Justin Smith. “It saves a ton of money for our students. Our students on average pay about $700 for two years of college out of pocket to earn 60 credits.”
Working in collaboration with McHenry County College, the dual degree students spend summers in the classroom to earn credits toward the associate’s degree.
“All the hard work really paid off because I’m going to have that degree in my hands pretty soon,” Diaz said.
That degree will be in Diaz’s hands this May, with her and other students set to receive associate’s degree even before being handed their high school diploma.
“These students have worked so hard,” Smith said. “We’re so proud of them.”
While Marlen receiving two diplomas is a monumental occasion for their family, It’s not the only accomplishment that’s happened for the Diazes. Through the help of an immigration attorney, Marlen’s parents also recently gained full citizenship in the United States.
It’s a day Diaz said she’ll never forget.
“My dad cried and I never see him cry so it was just a monumental moment,” Diaz said. “Just finally we all have that sense of security. It was just so great.”
With a sense of security in place, the sky is now the limit for the Diaz family and Marlen, who has in mind what she will pursue next.
“I feel like that’s what inspired me to become an immigration attorney,” Diaz said. “I have that peace of mind now. I want other people to have that same peace of mind because no child deserves to think that one day, they’re just not going to have their parents around anymore.”
After a few more weeks, Diaz will add two more pictures to the wall — graduation photos — and continue working on her dream to help deliver the same peace her family has experienced, to others on a similar journey.
A picture-perfect ending to a family story long in the making.