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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian


Opinion: Dear golden class of 2024

Courtesy of Erica Alfaro
Photo courtesy of Erica Alfaro

To test gold, fire is applied. If the piece is authentic, it will not burn, but it can melt, which helps to mold it into a new shape. I am here to tell you, Class of 2024, you are gold.

As we prepare for a life outside of college, we may find ourselves walking through the heat. It is key to remember the stories of those who have persevered to keep us going. Award-winning author and motivational keynote note speaker, Erica Alfaro, is one of those people.

“I’m a bumblebee,” Alfaro said. “I’m not meant to fly, but I do.”

As we spoke over the phone, she explained the size of a bumblebee’s wings compared to their wide bodies. Her resilience from hardships and ability to still “fly” in spite of circumstances is why I sit here writing.

She travels the world sharing her story and has been recognized by Vice President Kamala Harris as a symbol of hope.

Graduates, the time is now to go after what we want. I hope that by sharing her story with you, you will always have a source of inspiration to look toward as we progress in this transitory period in our lives.

I first learned about Alfaro online after she joined Rise 2 It Productions, the #1 motivational speaking company in central California. Next, I found myself ready to phone her for an interview.

While her introduction may paint the “picture perfect” life, her journey includes the following: a language barrier, domestic abuse, verbal abuse, teen pregnancy, abandonment from her community, depression, academic disqualification and single motherhood with “Luisito,” her son who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Hearing about her challenges made me reflect on what I have personally endured during my journey to graduate.

“I hated myself so much that I started destroying myself,” Alfaro said.

She blamed herself for many years for her son’s diagnosis. She said she viewed herself as useless for not protecting herself more during her pregnancy from the physical abuse inflicted by her baby’s father. She thought it could have changed the outcome of her son’s diagnosis.

This low point led Aflaro into a depression and she began to surround herself with the wrong crowd.

In life, when we are stuck and we do not know what direction to go, sometimes our childhood reveals to us what it is that we are meant to do.

I invite you to think back to a simple time in your childhood when you found yourself doing something that filled you with joy.

Alfaro said she used to give motivational speeches to her teddy bears at nine years old. She was aligned with her future and didn’t even know it.

Upon hearing her say she used to do this over our phone call, it was a reminder for me not to view my own childhood dreams as a fantasy. She is proof that they are meant to be lived out.

Being just a child would not stop Alfaro’s core identity from revealing itself. She would become influential internationally later on in life, but that person resided in her from the beginning. She did not know it at nine, but she was preparing herself for her future where her voice would be heard globally.

“When you are leaving an abusive relationship, your self-esteem is so low that you don’t feel that you deserve to be heard by other people,” Alfaro said.

Through the suffering, she had forgotten about the extroverted little girl she used to be.

Alfaro had been evicted from her apartment, her son was just recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, she was academically disqualified from school and she was mourning the loss of a loved one.

At the peak of adversity and desperate for a different life, she did something she had never done before. Before she fell asleep, she surrendered and said a prayer.

“God, if you really exist, prove it to me,” she said.

48 hours later, she came across some words she felt she needed to hear. It was a message about forgiveness. Her next steps became clear to her.

“I had to first forgive myself and then forgive the person that hurt me the most,” Alfaro said.

Breaking away from her abusive relationship was gradual. Having tried to end the relationship three or four times prior, the baby’s father always returned convincingly apologetic for his actions. Her family also discouraged her from leaving because they frowned upon single motherhood.

She created a deadline of Dec.1 on paper, for change in the relationship or it was over.

“I had an expiration date of when I was going to make a decision,” Alfaro said.

During the transition out of the relationship Alfaro changed her phone number, deactivated her social media accounts, and cut her hair.

Her son Luisito, asked her if he had a career yet.

Her son motivated her to re-enroll back into school in 2014 and later finish her degree in Psychology, at Cal State San Marcos. This same college that she found herself academically disqualified from, selected her as the commencement speaker for their graduation ceremony.

After saying goodbye to the party scene, Alfaro was able to build new friendships where conversations about success took place.

“My friends weren’t talking about people, they were talking about goals,” said Alfaro.

Alfaro swapped old destructive habits with new ones. Instead of drinking, she would be found reading; instead of the party scenery, she was watching the sunrise. Most importantly, she was extending grace and forgiveness towards herself and Luisito’s father.

Listening to motivational videos became a big part of her self-rediscovery.

“Specifically Les Brown,” she said.

Progressing in her education, she attended San Diego State University where she received her masters degree in Education, with a concentration in counseling.

When graduation approached, Alfaro wanted to honor her parents who worked in agriculture fields for their sacrifices. As a surprise, she took them to the very fields they worked in and was captured alongside them for a graduation picture.

She uploaded that photo online and it went viral.

The positive change that she worked hard for in her life up to this point, prepared her for the opportunities that the viral graduation photo would bring into her life.

Her picture made headlines and Alfaro was sprung forth into her future that awaited her in motivational speaking.

“Before the pictures went viral, I was practicing to share my story because I thought one day I was going to have the opportunity,” Alfaro said.

She was right about that, but she had greatly underestimated the size of her audience.

Her story has been portrayed on “Crónicas de Univision,” and she moved forward in the publishing of her first book, “Harvesting Dreams.”

A script of her book is under review by Netflix after its nomination from The International Latino Book Awards. Multiple community college classrooms and highschool courses for English Language Development will start using her book as part of curriculum in the next school year.

Alfaro mentioned that before the draft of her book was finished, she could already visualize herself at book signings. This key detail deeply resonated with me.

My college experience was messy at the start. I switched colleges three times, and I admit to having struggled much with it.

I would tell people I did not know what I wanted to do because I lacked the courage to say my goals out loud.

From a young age, just like Alfaro would give speeches to her teddy bears, I would give improvised television news reports to my grandma. Much of my younger years were spent performing to entertain her. I waited for her applause or laugh every time. They never fail to this day, my grandmother is 88 now.

Since then, I already knew about my desire to tell stories on camera. When I saw anchors on television, it was like a mirror was being held up to my face.

By God’s grace, that is exactly what found me; I did not look for it. It just came to be.

Over a year ago, I was ready to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts. At the last possible second, I added a minor in Media, Communications and Journalism, and it led me to anchor live televised newscasts from campus for Fresno State Focus TV. Just like in Alfaro’s story, I saw my world start to open up after struggling for a few years.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Carranza

With school still in session, I got offered a full-time position as a television news reporter and was asked if I would consider a position where I was guaranteed to anchor half of the week.

Alfaro mentioning being able to visualize herself doing something before it came to fruition took me back to a very specific moment in my collegiate career.

A show was about to begin for Fresno State Focus TV, the lights and cameras were on me and the director started the action countdown, “Three. Two. One.” It was a moment of pure surrealism.

My reality at that exact moment was something I pictured clearly in my mind at the age of 10 that finally was set into motion.

What was not so clear was how I was going to get there. Still, every event in my life was purposeful in leading up to that point.

Had I not struggled jumping from college to college to college, the outcome would have been different.

I have lived through multiple of these full-circle instances in my life. What I have learned from those experiences is that there is a reason for the desires in our hearts. Do not suppress the dreams planted intentionally inside of you by our creator.

For Alfaro, it took pain and heartache before she would be celebrated and recognized as the influential leader she is today.

“Everything is going to be OK” Alfaro said when asked what she would go back and tell her younger, defeated self.

To those going through hardship now or graduating soon without a clear idea of what’s next, I want to take this opportunity to tell you everything is going to be OK.

The same people who called Alfaro a failure and a bad mother now read headlines where she is referred to as a role model.

She has a newfound support system in her marriage to Jose Manuel, in which they share a mutual respect for one another, and as Alfaro looks ahead she plans to make a movie about her life within the next 10 years.

Alfaro’s impact has overflowed into classrooms, impacting student and 2024 graduate Yahaida Ruiz, whose inner strength was revived upon hearing about Alfaro’s redemption.

Ruiz will be a first-generation Fresno State graduate from her family. Her parents moved to the United States so she and her siblings could have better opportunities. Ruiz relates to Alfaro on proving people wrong when they speak doubt over her own life.

Ruiz did not feel mentally prepared to transfer to a four-year school after receiving her associate’s degree from community college.

Photo courtesy of Yahaida Ruiz

She took a year off and knew she wanted to return to school, but was constantly reminded by her family that they found her return to school hard to believe. Ruiz did not let that stop her and she signed up to participate in commencement on May 17.

Alfaro’s trials and tribulations prompted Ruiz to reflect on her childhood struggles and also look forward to what is ahead.

Ruiz does not view graduating as the finish line but as a new beginning where she is excited for what the future holds.

For most of her college experience, Ruiz had to figure things out on her own. She lacked a support system from her parents, who found themselves in constant disagreements with each other, leading to a toxic home environment.

“They were wrapped in each other that they forgot about their kids,” Ruiz said.

She contemplated school events growing up.

“When you’re little, you need emotional support and you want your parents to be present at your award assemblies,” Ruiz said.

Because she did not have that support from her family, she sought her own family on campus at Fresno State and joined the sorority Phi Lambda Rho.

“My life has not been easy,” Ruiz said. “There are things I wish I would not have gone through growing up.”

Seeing her little brothers screaming or crying in the midst of chaos is one of the more painful experiences that Ruiz recalls. It is thanks to them and those difficult experiences that she did not give up on finishing school.

The youngest of her brothers is seven years old. She hopes that by watching her finish school, he can see that a better future lies ahead for all of them, including himself.

“What we go through in life doesn’t define us as a person,” Ruiz said.

She is grateful the world has people like Alfaro to serve as a reminder to never give up.

“She went through a lot in her life and that didn’t stop her from chasing her dreams,” Ruiz said about Alfaro.

Ruiz agrees with that mindset. She recently got a shoulder tattoo that reads, “One day you’ll be glad you never gave up.”

Alfaro has not only impacted students in education but has changed the approach of teachers.

Jonathan Hernandez, a Porterville College professor, recognizes that some students in his classroom can be going through some of the same things Alfaro went through. This has helped him create a learning space with more empathy, love and kindness.

He also works closely with Alfaro on the Rise 2 It Production team. He shared with me how authenticity has favored Alfaro in her journey.

“What’s led to a lot of her success… is her being herself,” Hernandez said.

He acknowledged Alafro’s ability to be a continuous learner and relentless when going after her goals.

“It really is becoming a lost art, going after what you want,” Hernandez said.

Now, what we want may not always be advertised in the world as an opportunity. What I have learned in my most recent years is to create my own opportunities.

Sometimes, the answer will be “no,” but talking about my ideas with people who can help me realize my vision has vastly expanded my network of people.

In my experience, through sending those emails and knocking on doors, I got to create a large web of contacts who will now have my information if future opportunities come up.

Keeping my eyes fixed on a goal helps me. When adversity strikes, I can remind myself that where I am is not where I am going.

Alfaro was tested in fire and the flames refined her. The hardships are what gave her sturdy wings to fly like a bumblebee.

Graduation calls for a major shift in all of our lives.

I want us to keep her perseverance in mind and I challenge us to face the world beyond college with courage. We are not called to survive. We are called to thrive.

Congratulations to all of the Class of 2023-2024 graduates. You are pure gold.


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