“If I don’t work hard, what the heck am I doing?” asks Maria Reynoso ’19. It’s a sort of mantra for the graduating political science major that she’s repeated through plenty of struggle and sacrifice to now the culmination of a dream she shares with her parents.
Graduating from college. That’s the big dream—the one that prompted Reynoso’s parents to move, with 2-year-old Maria, from Guadalajara, Mexico to the United States two decades ago. It’s the dream of greater opportunity—which prompted even another move once they got to Virginia, away from a comfortable, predominantly Hispanic community full of family members and friends to a different county with better schools, where Maria didn’t know anyone.
And now here she is, preparing to walk across the stage to accept her diploma.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how willing my parents were to drop everything they knew to give us a better life. That’s a sacrifice I can hardly imagine, but the core of it was always education.Maria Reynoso ’19 Tweet This
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how willing my parents were to drop everything they knew to give us a better life,” she said. “That’s a sacrifice I can hardly imagine, but the core of it was always education.”
First that meant community college, and then enrolling in the place she fell in love with when an admissions counselor walked into Garfield High School and told her about Longwood University. She was on the path she’d dreamed of, but the transition was more difficult than she anticipated.
“I was struggling to fit in,” she said. “Most of the people I met already had a tight group of friends and those first few weeks were really tough. I thought that maybe Longwood wasn’t for me. But through those early struggles, I kept telling myself to work hard and I’ll figure it out.”
Through the urging of a few hallmates, she joined Lancer Productions and found some friends.
Then, the big moment—the thing she found that unlocked her purpose at Longwood: she went to a meeting of the Hispanic Latino Association. To her dismay, the group had few members and even less energy.
“That was heart-breaking for me,” she said. “But I told myself that I had to do something about it. So, I became president the first semester of my senior year and we expanded from a Latin-exclusive group to a Latin-based group—meaning you don’t have to be Hispanic to join. You just have to be interested in the culture, the food, whatever. We quickly grew to more than 40 members and we’re a lot more active in the community now. That really makes me feel proud, because I love my heritage, and we’ve worked very hard to come this far.”
The impact of her work was quickly on display. A fellow student who was strongly considering transferring to another university reversed her decision after meeting Reynoso and the other HLA members. “I felt so happy when I heard she decided to stay because I love this university and want everyone to feel like a part of this family,” she said.
Reynoso didn’t stop, of course, with the Hispanic Latino Association. She has leadership roles in the Model UN and Politics Club, and hopes to work for a 2020 political campaign after graduation.
This week her parents are back in Guadalajara, celebrating their daughter’s accomplishments with grandparents and aunts and uncles, and picking up the traditional dress she’ll wear under her cap and gown on Saturday.
Just like Maria dreamed it.