When Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) graduate student Riccardo Jean crosses the stage to receive his diploma on Friday, it will add to a long list of firsts in his family.
Born to Haitian immigrants as the sixth of seven children, Jean was not only a first generation college student but also the first person in his family to receive a high school diploma.
Growing up, Jean’s family relocated several times before settling in Jacksonville, Fla., where his mother worked as a nanny and his father as a grocer. Though his parents had a limited education, Jean said they worked tirelessly to ensure that he was able to attain the academic success they had only dreamed of for themselves.
“It really is like the American dream story for immigrant families,” Jean said. “Now that I’m older, I truly understand the value of everything they did for me, so getting these degrees is just a return on the investment they made in my future. ”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2011 from FAMU, Jean enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he said he gained the focus and maturity that led him to pursue his master’s degree. Upon completion of basic training, he returned to the University to obtain his graduate degree in molecular cell biology.
Now that he has presented his thesis, Jean said all there’s left to do is cross the stage—a feat he believes would be impossible without his parents.