Graduation is a family affair for Ecuadorean mother, daughter and son

Photo of Martha Cedeño and Claudia Sánchez
Martha Cedeño (left) and her daughter Claudia Sánchez graduated today with bachelor's degrees in science. They are international students from Ecuador (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Crossing the stage at Convocation Hall is fast becoming a tradition for University of Toronto students Martha Cedeño and her children.

Cedeño and her daughter, Claudia Sánchez, both attended U of T Mississauga and graduated today with bachelor's degrees. Her son, Diego Sánchez, also at U of T Mississauga, will earn his bachelor's 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 at 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 didn't approve of the immigration policy there. 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 and not the family. Canada, on the other hand, provided visas for Cedeño and her entire family, so she turned to U of T Mississauga (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. A year later, her son followed.  Each of the three is earning a bachelor's of science degree 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.

Martha Cedeño (left) and her children Claudia and Diego Sánchez. Diego will graduate in the spring (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The three didn’t take classes together, but they all undertook the same internship program, spending a month teaching English to students in China.

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

Cedeño has been accepted to a master’s degree program in social justice at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), 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.”