Juan Galicia-Diaz and his family celebrate his graduation from Macalester College. Credit: Courtesy Juan Galicia-Diaz

The graduating class of 2022 had expected that school would be tough. But they did not anticipate all the obstacles that would come their way: a global pandemic, up to two years of online schooling, a national racial reckoning and uprising following the police murder of George Floyd, and unprecedented levels of mental health challenges. Some St. Paul high school students had to organize to keep their school open; students in Minneapolis experienced a three-week teacher strike. These challenges proved especially difficult for students who are first in their families to graduate high school in the United States or attend college.

For these students, their long-anticipated graduations feel especially hard-fought—and sweet. The Class of 2022 has learned the hard way not to take anything for granted. They are proud they made it through, and ready for their next chapters. Congratulations to them all.

Here are a few of the best and brightest Twin Cities graduates from 2022.

Juwaria Jama graduated from Spring Lake Park High School and will attend Emerson College in the fall. Credit: Courtesy Juwaria Jama

Name: Juwaria Jama
School: Spring Lake Park High School
Plans for next year: Emerson College

A favorite memory of senior year: I really enjoyed the senior sunrise we had at the beginning of the school year to open up senior year, and allow us to transition into our final year of high school. Everybody came to school right before sunrise and went on the football field and we ended up watching the sun come out. Especially with COVID, and the way we didn’t get to have junior year of high school, it felt nice that we were in person and able to experience that together.

A challenge you overcame: With the pandemic, something that I’ve had to overcome was learning how to ask for grace and leniency from teachers. Things got really hard with the pandemic, and being expected to still produce really good grades and do all of our assignments. I had to learn how to communicate well with my teachers, and how to navigate getting resources and getting extensions when I needed them.

Something you’re proud of: I’m proud of just being able to get through high school, persevering through it all. COVID took a lot away from us and made our experiences just so different. Especially doing online school, that was really hard. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to finish it and was able to stay dedicated to the things that I cared about.

Someone you’re grateful for: I’m really grateful for my mentors. I have a lot of adults in my life who are just a couple years older than me, who really helped me navigate college applications and homework help and essays. I think they just made the high school process so much easier.

Plans for graduation: My cousin and I are in the same grade. We’re doing a joint grad party.

What you’re looking forward to: I’m looking forward to transitioning into a new period of my life. I’m really looking forward to learning things that I really enjoy and being able to do more hands-on learning, and more freedom to learn.

Juan Galicia-Diaz (left) and Río Osorio Nava recite a poem, “Drops of Color,” they created together for the Latinx Heritage Month Program they organized. Credit: Courtesy Juan Galicia-Diaz

Name: Juan Galicia-Diaz
School: Macalester College
Plans for next year: Working for JPMorgan Chase in Dallas

How graduation feels: I’m a first generation college student; first in my family to graduate. I was hoping and praying that I was going to be able to see my family when I walked across the stage, and luckily enough I was able to.

A favorite memory: Being able to organize and see our Latinx Heritage Month program unfold. It was such a huge task throughout the semester, trying to manage contracts, and manage emails, schoolwork, and also part-time jobs. We had different speakers come in, different dance groups, then a community-building workshop with one of our speakers. For me it was probably one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced. 

A challenge you overcame: As a student leader, you want to help your community, you want to help your friends as much as possible. I had no idea that I would not only be a student these past two years with the pandemic, but I was also going to be a therapist as well. That’s not to say I’m mad or I’m upset about it. These are my friends and that’s what I want to do because I love them, and if I can help I’m going to help. But I think that was the biggest challenge, trying to manage my schoolwork, my part-time jobs that I also had to do, because you can get pretty burnt out with a lot of that happening. I think that’s also helped me understand the importance of mental health and checking up on people.

Something you’re proud of: My community organizing. I was able to found a new Latinx student organization called LSU. There was a lack of community and collective action between Latinx students on campus. The incoming freshmen class are going to have a space, or a support system, they can count on.

Someone you’re grateful for: My mom. I can never thank her enough. The celebration of my graduation is not just a celebration of my work, but a celebration of all of us to honor and recognize that when one of us triumphs, we all triumph.

Highlights of your graduation: Macalester has been doing this tradition called Honor the Journey. It’s for first-generation college students and their families in the Concert Hall. We all have two minutes, and our families are all on stage, and all of us have the option to speak in our native language to our families so they’re able to understand. I was able to get my two minutes. I was trying the hardest not to cry. Being able to release some of those feelings and emotions, and actually vocalize my gratitude with them. Just seeing the love that was there in the room, not just myself, but also my peers as well, was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. Recognizing how far we’ve come since freshman year. Now recognizing we’re going to go conquer the world, see what’s next, and hopefully change this world little by little. 

Are you a Class of 2022 graduate? We want to hear from you! Share your story with Sahan Journal.

Sarita Toledo received the prestigious QuestBridge scholarship and won a full scholarship to Denison University in Ohio. Credit: Courtesy Sarita Toledo

Name: Sarita Toledo
School: LEAP High School, St. Paul Public Schools
Plans for next year: Denison University

A favorite memory of senior year: One of my favorite memories is when I was doing peer mentoring, helping my peers with their math assignments and seeing with my own eyes the consequences of me helping other students understand.

A challenge you overcame: Surely the one comes to my mind is when LEAP High School was about to be closed, and we prevented that.

Sarita Toledo (second from left) and other students protested to prevent LEAP High School, which serves new immigrants, from closing. The St. Paul school board agreed to keep the school open. Credit: Courtesy Sarita Toledo

Something you’re proud of: I’m really proud of being able to get this QuestBridge scholarship. It’s one of my proudest achievements.

Who you’re grateful for: I’m grateful for Ms. Didi Malaga. She was the one who recommended me to the QuestBridge scholarship, and she really helped me throughout the process of applying: the CSS Profile and the FAFSA, those were really hard things to complete, but she was with me all the way throughout.

What you’re looking forward to: I’m looking forward to getting my bachelor’s degree, so I’m able to go to med school.

Have you had a chance to visit Denison? I haven’t. I kind of want to see it for the first time when I first arrive.

Sylvia De Shazo (right) and a friend dressed up for the school’s spirit week theme, Twin Day. They dressed as Men in Black characters, and for a “weapon” brought a banana. Credit: Courtesy Sylvia De Shazo

Name: Sylvia De Shazo
School: Southwest High School, Minneapolis Public Schools
Plans for next year: Gustavus Adolphus College

A challenge you overcame: Being less afraid to be myself around other people, and getting to know other people. I’ve learned to accept myself in that sense.

Who you’re grateful for: My friends. They’ve been those people I’ve always been able to connect with and talk to. We have all helped each other academically through our weaknesses, because we’ve got our own strengths, so we collaborate with each other. I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Your plans for the summer: I plan on working a lot. I work at Bread and Pickle by Lake Harriet. I have to contribute a certain amount [to college], so I need to earn that amount.

Heba Hussein graduated from Blaine High School and will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Credit: Courtesy Heba Hussein

Name: Heba Hussein
School: Blaine High School
Plans for next year: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A favorite memory: Being able to hang out with friends, especially in nature. Hammocking with friends is my most favorite memory.

A challenge you overcame: Navigating my way through high school classes as a minority. Being one of the only POCs in classes, it’s felt hard to feel like I belong there. But my sense of belonging has improved.

What you’re proud of: I’m proud of being able to achieve some of the dreams I had, some things I thought weren’t ever possible.

Advice for next year’s freshmen: Just continue to push through. You’ll have doubts in yourself, but know that those are just doubts, and you’re able to achieve anything.

Heba Hussein (top) and a friend attending a homecoming football game. Credit: Heba Hussein

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...