TAMPA — Graduations mark new beginnings, but every new beginning begins with an end.
For Lazaro Alvelaez this next step is extra bittersweet.
While the Cuba native is no stranger to change, leaving his family behind as he prepares to travel more than 1,300 miles from home to attend Boston College in the fall represents new territory.
The soon-to-be Jesuit High School alum is the son of political refugees who were exiled from their home in San Cristóbal, Cuba, in 2009. The couple came to the United States with one goal: to give their children a better life where they could live their dreams without the restraints of the Cuban government.
Like many immigrants, the family struggled to assimilate and provide for their children — working extra jobs just to make ends meet. But one thing remained the same, they stayed together and always had a reason to celebrate — no matter how small.
It's a tradition that Alvelaez says he's sure to miss.
But the road to graduation has been no easy feat, and it all started with one summer. When the former Webb Middle School student applied for the Jesuit Summer Bridge program four years ago, he had no idea how that summer would change his life.
"The most important thing that I had to learn here, that was kind of a wakeup call, was hard work," Alvelaez said.
As a student who had always excelled in school with little effort, attending Jesuit High School proved to be quite the challenge.
"It was a rude awakening. Everyone here is just as intelligent as you are, and they know it."
After four years at Jesuit, Alvelaez has definitely learned the meaning of hard work, as evident in not only his grades, but his accomplishments and the many summers of volunteering as a camp counselor at the very program that opened the doors for him, the Jesuit Summer Bridge program.
Alvelaez entered the spring semester of his final year at Jesuit with straight As, and promising news for his future as the recipient of the Boston College Presidential Scholarship.
The prestigious scholarship, awarded to just 15 students each year, includes a full four-year ride and overseas summer leadership opportunities.
"I like to believe that I'm doing the things that I do to make myself better, but also for my parents because they have sacrificed so much that I want to make sure their sacrifices count," Alvelaez said.
Alvelaez credits his success to the example set for him by his parents, their sacrifices, and their unwavering desire to move forward.
"We feel very fortunate that our son was given the opportunity to attend an excellent Catholic school like Jesuit and receive a high level of education for his future," said Yanet Blanco, Alvelaez's mother. "Now, we are very happy about the scholarship to Boston College and sad at the same time about the separation.
"We are immensely proud to see his many accomplishments in this country that opened its doors to us. For him, the sky is the limit and we will always support him so he can achieve his dreams."
Alvelaez will graduate with his peers at the 2018 Jesuit High Commencement on May 30.
Contact Jennifer Lima at email@example.com.