Good afternoon, buenas tardes. My name is Cristóbal Garcia and I’m proud to be here with you today.

As a Latino and first-generation UNC Bear, I come from a family who knows about hard work. My mom was the only one in her family to graduate from high school, and my dad only made it to the 6th grade. Even through this hardship, they were able to build a life for my sisters and I, and help us reach the American dream of a college education.

See, I grew up on both sides of the US-Mexico border, we actually moved 13 times before landing here in Greeley, Colorado. Like many of you, I’ve had to learn a great deal about how to navigate systems and resources that weren’t designed for me, but this duality also provided me with an advantage. I’m bilingual in both English and Spanish, and I have learned how to bring others along as we navigate these systems together; one of these systems is building your network.

At this young age, you need to engrain the importance of networking into your experience at UNC, and realize that you’ve already been doing this work – with the teachers and staff in your high schools, with your mentors, and with other people you’ve started engaging around your community.  

When I first came to UNC, I didn’t have a clue on how to get around this campus; All I knew was that I my Educational Talent Search counselor was connected to someone at the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, and that I should go there. During New Student Orientation, I met the nicest person in the whole world; and I can say that now, because I’m older, and because it’s true. That person was Trish Escobar, the now Director of the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center.

When I entered the Chavez Center, I heard “¡Mijo; Bienvenido! ¿Cómo estás?” Before that moment, I felt overwhelmed, I didn’t know that I belonged on this campus, and I wasn’t sure that I would make it on my own – but now I knew that I didn’t have to. Because I was home.

After our initial meeting, Trish was able to connect me to Julie Trujillo in the Center for Human Enrichment, and Julie connected me to Ernie Andrade in the Cumbres Teacher Preparation program. Although this network supported my growth at UNC, it was my own resilience that got me through that first year of trials and challenges – many of the challenges you may also face.

As the first in my family, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. They had already given so much to ensure that I could attend college, so I was determined to graduate. I fought hard times, but thanks to my network, I was able to get through. I wanted to share one specific story to highlight the support I received from the Financial Aid program and donors to UNC.

It was the end of my junior year at UNC, and was owing a balance of 520 dollars and 46 cents; I’ll never forget that amount. Because of the balance owing, I couldn’t register for classes, and even with my current financial aid package and the three jobs that I was working I didn’t have the money to cover it. Trish suggested that I speak with her friend in the financial aid office, Donnie Clark.

I remember showing up, and there was a woman who was typing on her computer, she didn’t seem that interested in me, and I was already afraid of asking for help. I told her my situation, gave her my bear number, and waited as she continued to type. She turned around, and said, “I’ve found you a $500 scholarship to cover the gap. Can you cover the remaining balance at the cashier’s office, or should I keep looking?” I was overwhelmed with emotion and thanked her over and over again, it’s at that moment that I realized that there are a network of bears around us at all times, working toward our success.

Throughout my college career, and into my professional life, I’ve been supported through a network of colleagues and friends. You may feel that as new college students, or specifically first-generation college students, you don’t know where to start. I suggest you start with the faculty and staff around you, your fellow students, and with the robust network of nearly 150 thousand UNC alumni in your corner right now.

This network will help you navigate your college career, and it will be there after you leave UNC. There with connections to employers, there to provide advice, and there to lend a hand when you may need $500 to register for next semester – Trust me, I’ve been there.

I hope you take this opportunity as new UNC Bears, and challenge yourself to connect with folks who may look or engage very different than you. Take the opportunity to learn about the things you feel most vulnerable experiencing; and take the opportunity to visit spaces and meet people across campus. Look around you, this community is your future network, and we’re all UNC Bears.

Please know that you have a fellow Bear right here, and I encourage you to reach out to me and others for support.

Thank you for your time, and Go Bears!

Strategic Enrollment and Student Success

Visit the Office of the President to learn more about UNC's plans to help more students succeed, including providing a network of support services that will help students enroll and graduate on time.

Do you want to help? UNC is always recruiting volunteers and partnering with donors to help students succeed. Reach out to UNC's Division of University Advancement at (970) 351-2551 or alumni@unco.edu to discuss how your involvement and philanthropy will impact student success.