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Arizona native, first-generation college student graduates from ASU with 4 degrees

Vanessa Aguiar poses in an outdoor setting wearing her graduation gown, cap and stole.

Vanessa Aguiar is graduating this spring with degrees in French, global studies, philosophy and political science. Photo by Andrea Chavez

May 10, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Vanessa Aguiar knows firsthand what it means to represent family and be a catalyst for change.

Attending and completing college as a first-generation student poses significant challenges and is an enormous accomplishment for any student. But Aguiar went above and beyond, earning degrees in French, global studies, philosophy and political science.

Aguiar was born to immigrant farmworkers in the border town of San Luis, Arizona, south of Yuma. Learning the value of hard work through her parents’ dedication and the values they instilled in her, she wanted to be a beacon of hope for her family and many others.

When she began her first year at Arizona State University to pursue a global studies degree, she developed interests in political science and philosophy.

She turned to her academic advisor to see if it was feasible to add additional majors.

“My advisor was very supportive of adding the two majors,” she said. “Then, sophomore year, I took a French class and was strongly interested in adding that subject. That’s how I ended up with four majors.”

The learning didn’t stop there. Despite her sophomore year being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Aguiar took part in virtual internships with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing the next generation of Latino leaders.

Aguiar also spent most of her four years in several leadership and professional roles at the university, mainly as a financial aid representative, a policy analyst for ASU Knowledge Enterprise and a counselor in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).

But one of the most profound accomplishments on her long list of achievements was her time as a UCLA Law Fellow the summer before her junior year. Aiming to be a lawyer one day, Aguiar was one of two out-of-state fellows in the program. They welcomed her into the program and gave her an insight into law school.

Here, she speaks about her time at ASU.

Question: How did you manage a challenging course load?

Answer: It was tough. A lot was going on during the early years of college, with some personal issues and navigating the pandemic. I think I was trying to pile a lot on to forget about it and quickly figured out it wasn’t healthy. I needed to step back and focus only on what I loved to do.

Q: What does it mean for you to be a first-generation college student and represent your family in that way?

A: It might feel funny, but I’m part of ending a cycle. Knowing firsthand what it takes to accomplish and figure everything out on your own is a special thing. It is remarkable to be able to dedicate each one of my degrees to each member of my family because we are a family of four.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU?

A: It’s not wrong to know yourself and your limits and when it is enough and that too much is too much. I learned not to be afraid to quit or pause things when life gets too crazy.

Q: Why did you decide to attend ASU?

A: It was the wisest decision financially, but when I visited the three state universities, ASU felt the most comforting, and my heart belonged there. But also the representation of diversity, sharing my stories with others like me and hearing advice from others to balance it out.

Q: What advice would you give an incoming first-year student?

A: Two things: Do not be afraid to know yourself and be your authentic self. Second, do not compare yourself to others. Whatever a person is doing is already enough.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m moving to Washington, D.C., to work with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute this summer. I will be a fellow with them for the first few months and work on Capitol Hill. I have the option to transfer to a federal agency.

Q: How do you think all these fields of study mesh together?

A: They have been merging this whole time. In my law school classes, I learned many laws were started in France; some of the most famous philosophers are French. At least, I think these studies opened my perspective to different ways of thinking.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I want to be an intellectual property law attorney in the entertainment or fashion industry. One day I hope to merge them because I am interested in politics as well.

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