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A woman reveals she's undocumented at her graduation speech and brings the house down.

After nearly six years in the U.S., Larissa Martinez opened up about her immigration status in the best way possible.

A woman reveals she's undocumented at her graduation speech and brings the house down.

Larissa Martinez graduated valedictorian of her high school class. She had a 4.95 GPA, took 17 AP courses, and earned a full scholarship to Yale.

Photo via WFAA.


And as is tradition for valedictorians, Martinez put together a speech to be delivered during the school's graduation ceremony. When it came time to write her delivered remarks, however, Martinez veered from platitudes about following your dreams and never letting others stand in your way.

Instead, during her speech, she did something completely unexpected: She outed herself as an undocumented immigrant.

Up to that point, only 10 people at her high school knew about her undocumented status. Here she was, a heartwarming success story with a secret she hoped wouldn't mar how her classmates viewed her.


All GIFs via WFAA/McKinney ISD.

Her words clearly resonated with her classmates. She received a thunderous round of applause throughout her speech and a standing ovation at the end.

Martinez has been in the U.S. for nearly six years living with her mom and her sister.

The family fled her mother's abusive husband in Mexico City, hoping to start a new life in America. They never planned on being undocumented, and they tried to do it the "right" way. However, the U.S. immigration system is, sadly and frustratingly, broken. Seven years after applying for citizenship, her family's application still hadn't been processed.

"We are trying to do it the right way, but we don't know how," she told her classmates, asking them to look beyond how the media portrays immigrants, especially during this election season.

Her heartwarming message conveyed hope, calling on people to see immigrants as people, as part of America.

Because if you think about it, what makes her any less entitled to live here than the millions of other Americans whose families immigrated here? Most of us are American citizens by the pure luck of being born here. Why should her dreams be seen as less valid?


And being undocumented can make getting an education even harder, as many of those students struggle with fear of deportation.

A 2015 UCLA study of college students found that, as the result of looming concerns about being deported, many undocumented students struggle with anxiety.

About 29% of undocumented men and about 37% of undocumented women surveyed had an anxiety score above the clinical cutoff level. Those numbers are pretty extreme when you compare them to the rates of anxiety in others surveyed (4% for men and 9% for women).

Photo by WFAA.

She ends her speech with quite a mic drop.

"I ask for all of you to try to look beyond the way in which the media portrays us and the dehumanizing accusations that some politicians have made."

You can watch WFAA's report below, and you can view her whole speech here.


Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez