Convocation: Ecuadorean family establishes new tradition

Mother and daughter graduates
Monday, November 5, 2018 - 9:21am
Elaine Smith

Crossing the stage at Convocation Hall during the U of T Mississauga convocation ceremony is fast becoming a tradition for Martha Cedeño and her children. Cedeño and her daughter, Claudia Sánchez, will both be graduating this fall with B.Sc. degrees; her son, Diego Sánchez, will earn his UTM B.Sc. degree in the spring.

It’s the last thing this Ecuadorean mother would have imagined during her children’s high school years. It was during that time that the Ecuadorean government overhauled its university application system to base entrance options on a standardized test. Cedeño, who worked in information technology, decided she would take the newly instituted test to learn how it was done and then help her daughter prepare for it.

“I wasn’t trying to get into university,” Cedeño says. “It had been 20 years since I last studied and a degree wasn’t on my mind.”

To her surprise, Cedeño received one of the highest grades among those taking the exam and was offered a government scholarship to earn a bachelor of science degree. The scholarship could be used any of the top 50 institutions in the world.

“It was amazing,” she says. “I thought about it and decided it was an opportunity to earn a degree in another field just for the sake of learning.”

Cedeño looked first to the United States, but the immigration policy there stopped her cold. As a mother with a husband and three teenage children, she wasn’t interested in a country that would only give a visa to the student herself. Canada, on the other hand, provided visas for Cedeño and her entire family, so she turned to UTM.

“Canada is such a great place to come with a family,” she says. “My children were able to finish high school here and my husband was able to work. UTM, too, has been very supportive. They took me by the hand to help me arrange all aspects of my experience.”

Meanwhile, Cedeño’s daughter also earned a scholarship from the Ecuadorean government and joined her mother at UTM. A year later, her son followed.  Each of the three is earning a B.Sc. and graduating in the 2018-19 academic year, but in fields that reflect their individual interests. Cedeño studied sociology, psychology and education studies; Claudia pursued environmental science and environment management; while Diego is majoring in anthropology with a minor in linguistic and education studies. The trio didn’t take classes together, but they all undertook the same internship program, spending a month teaching English as a Second Language to students in China.

“It was an amazing month,” Cedeño says. “It seemed like a family trip, but it was a course.”

Once mother and daughter cross the stage during convocation, their paths will diverge. Cedeño has been accepted to a master’s degree program in social justice at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, while Claudia plans to return to Ecuador to get a job working in environmental science, a field that the government there has made a priority. Diego, meanwhile, will finish his final semester and consider graduate school possibilities.

“This experience at UTM and in Canada has been like winning the lottery,” says Cedeño. “We could exchange our ticket for opportunity or we could decline to cash it in. I want people to know about my country and its huge attempt to improve education. If not for that, we wouldn’t be here.”