Working Toward Increased Latino Graduation Rates

By Emily McGarry, Communications Department Intern, NCLR


Maria Thurber and her parents, Monica and James.

There is nothing quite like a college graduation ceremony, with young people in robes and mortarboards filled with hope for the future and proud relatives taking photos to document this milestone. For many families, this graduation season was their first. One such family is that of Maria Thurber, who just earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and is the first in her family to go to college.

Maria studied Spanish and theology and minored in art at Catholic University of America. Her dream is to one day become a museum curator. She credits her parents’ support and constant encouragement to work hard, as she always wanted to make them proud.

Furthermore, Maria wanted to show others—especially children whose family members might not have a college education—that earning a degree is possible. She knows that the cost of college and other factors can seem overwhelming and may discourage students from pursuing a degree. Maria believes strongly, however, that her degree will pay off immensely.

“I think earning a college degree is difficult, and I would consider it a great personal triumph to graduate,” said Maria. “As a Latina woman, I feel very proud of my roots and wish to show others the importance of college and how it can be done!”

Maria1Maria is one of many Latinos forging new paths to college. A 2012-2013 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the Hispanic high school graduation rate was 75.2 percent, compared to the national average of 81.4 percent. The GradNation campaign aims to have a 90 percent national high school graduation rate by 2020. Although this may seem hard to achieve, we are not far from reaching this goal.

NCLR is encouraged that there will be many more young Latinos like Maria who will help the U.S. get to that point. Our work on increasing the number of Latino high school graduates will also ensure that more young people attend college. We hope to hear many inspiring stories like Maria’s in the future and see the college graduation gap narrow.

For the Castillo Family, Preserving Their Hispanic Heritage Is Paramount

By Haley Finn, Intern, NCLR Communications Department

We’re continuing our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month this week by taking a look at how everyday Latinos spend this special time of year. I also set out to learn more about what Hispanic heritage means to others in our community. To start, I went to The Catholic University of America, where I met Johanna Cajina Castillo. This is her story.

Johanna Cajina Castillo

Johanna Cajina Castillo. Photo:

Johanna, 22 years old, is a senior at Catholic University double-majoring in Spanish and politics. She was raised in Managua, Nicaragua, before immigrating to the United States at the age of six. Having grown up in two different countries, she has learned to appreciate her heritage while also striving for success in the United States.

Johanna’s father immigrated here 20 years ago, followed by her mother. Later, Johanna and her siblings arrived. Her family lives in a predominantly Salvadoran community, though they are from Nicaragua. Yet their different country of origin has not had no negative impact on their daily lives.

“Although not every Hispanic in the United States is from the same country, there is a common theme of brotherhood and an immediate connection,” said Johanna.

Salvadorans may have a different culture, but this difference provides an opportunity for Johanna’s family to share their heritage. One of their favorite things is preparing Nicaraguan dishes to share with their neighbors.

Johanna’s parents acknowledged that losing their culture was one of their greatest fears. They worried that in relocating to the U.S., Johanna and her siblings would forget something they are so proud of, especially since the children were young. To preserve their heritage, the family centers much of its routine on its Hispanic roots. At home only Spanish is spoken, Nicaraguan food is served, and all movies, newspapers, and radio are in Spanish. Johanna is fully confident in her ability to speak both English and Spanish, yet she only uses English at school or in public interactions.

One thing that has contributed to Johanna’s pride in her culture is her family’s decision to send their children to Nicaragua. Every summer she travels there with her siblings to spend two months with family. “Spending these summers with my family makes me feel confident that I am maintaining my Hispanic heritage, although I live and go to school in the U.S. Thanks to my parents, my roots are very strong and I have learned to cherish every part of my heritage,” said Johanna.

Passionate about her ties, Johanna serves as President of the Spanish Club at Catholic University. She is so eager to share her heritage with others that she hosts events which allow people to join her in celebrating Hispanic cultures. This included a trip to a Latino film festival last month.

Johanna’s biggest hope is that more Hispanics receive a higher education. The percentage of Latinos dropping out of high school is too great, and the percentage not attending college is too small.

“Education, in my opinion, is the key to everything we hope to achieve in the future,” said Johanna.

Johanna was excited to share her story and continues sharing it with others. She has learned to actively celebrate both heritages, balancing the two cultures she loves.