When Jaime and Beatriz Cortez receive degrees from Arizona State University today, their biggest supporters will be three other ASU graduates in the audience — their own grown children.
Beatriz, 62, and Jaime, 65, were so intent on giving their children a good life they postponed higher education for themselves, even though it had always been a priority.
They remained in El Salvador, paying for their children’s studies at ASU. The couple moved to Mesa as American citizens in 1991 and immediately enrolled in community college, eventually transferring to ASU.
Today is their day. The couple are among 4,000 students who will graduate in ceremonies at ASU’s three campuses in Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix.
"We wanted to finish something we love to show our grandchildren that education is a lifelong process," Beatriz said. Their grandchildren are 10, 8, and 5.
Jaime will receive a degree in fine arts and Beatriz in justice studies. Aides say ASU President Michael Crow will feature the couple in his commencement speech.
The Cortezes were born in the small village of Mejicanos, El Salvador. Their parents were neighbors, and they played together as children and went steady in high school.
At 19, Beatriz moved to New York in 1961 to work on the staff of the El Salvadorian delegate to the United Nations. Jaime joined her six months later, and they were married in Brooklyn in July 1962.
By 1965, they had two sons, Jaime and Ricardo. They took college courses when they could, alternating semesters so one parent could be with the children.
Beatriz’s job at the United Nations allowed the couple to meet John F. Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Nikita Khrushchev and other historical figures.
They returned to El Salvador in 1969 because they weren’t happy with New York’s public schools. Their daughter, Beatriz, was born the following year.
Civil war broke out in the late 1970s, when their sons were in high school. Beatriz said it was an especially bad time because the warring factions would raid buses and parks to recruit young men by force. The Cortezes enrolled their sons in a student exchange program. They were adopted by the Langston family in Chandler, finished high school, and enrolled at ASU. Ricardo would go on to earn a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley. Jaime finished a bachelor’s degree in music while at ASU.
Daughter Beatriz moved to Arizona as a citizen in the 1990s, and earned a doctorate with an emphasis in contemporary Latin American literature and culture from ASU.
The elder Beatriz said Wednesday she will always be grateful to the United States. She and her husband are proficient in several languages and could have moved to any country, she said, but they picked America because of the opportunity.
"Most people don’t go to school here and I don’t know why," she said.
The Cortezes said they are bothered when ethnic minorities who do noteworthy things are recognized more for their race than for the achievement. However, they understand it can be inspiring to others.
Wednesday, Beatriz rattled off the minority groups she can be grouped in: Hispanic, woman, foreign born, college senior older than 60, etc.
"As of tomorrow we’ll be part of another minority group: The 20 percent of Americans with bachelor’s degrees," she said.
What: Graduation ceremony at ASU Tempe campus
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Sixth Street and Stadium Drive
Parking: Lot 59 and Parking Structures 5 and 7 are free. Locator map at www.asu.edu/dps/pts/ event
Ceremony will be broadcast live on the Web at http://is.asu.edu/live.
Information: (480) 965-6991 or www.asu.edu/ssc/commence.