Jessica Colotl, 22, was among the 2,235 students who graduated from the university during five commencement ceremonies this week. She received applause from some in the audience as she walked across the stage to accept her degree, pausing for photos on her way back to her seat.
Colotl captured the nation’s attention and fueled the broader immigration debate last spring when she was arrested on traffic charges, which led to her detention in Cobb County on immigration charges. She subsequently spent 37 days at an Alabama detention center, but was allowed to finish her studies at KSU.
On May 3, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to defer action on Colotl’s case for another year, which allows her to remain in the country.
“I’m extremely happy and excited,” Colotl told the Journal after the ceremony. “I had a long way, but I’ve finally made it.”
Colotl — the first in her family to graduate college — said she wants to work at a law firm before eventually attending law school in order to become an immigration attorney.
Following the ceremony, she was surrounded by her aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, along with a string of journalists clamoring for interviews. Her family said her parents watched the ceremony from Mexico via the Internet.
“I never thought she was going to accomplish this, especially with what she went through, but other than that I’m so happy for her,” her sister, Rosario Colotl of Norcross, said.
Also on Wednesday, Democrats in the U.S. Senate reintroduced the Dream Act, a bill that would give legal status to some illegal immigrants who came to this country as children and meet certain educational or military service requirements. Opponents call the measure amnesty.
The legislation failed to pass last year in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed addressed graduates of KSU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences as commencement speaker at the same ceremony in which Jessica Colotl received her degree. It took place on campus in the university’s Convocation Center.
Reed, who was elected mayor in December 2009, asserted that no school in the state has made the kind of progress KSU has made over the years at the pace it has done it.
But that success also means students have more responsibility, Reed said. He told the graduates that the world needs qualified people like them to tackle the tough challenges before it. And he warned them not to wait too long before blazing their paths toward their goals.
He shared a story with the packed audience about regularly shuttling between Atlanta and Los Angeles as a young lawyer, bent on establishing an entertainment practice. Reed recalled making the same cross-country trip years later during his election in order to raise campaign funds, only much older than before.
“The point I’m making is, I remember being able to do something that I physically didn’t have the ability to do in the same fashion that I used to do it,” he said. “The reason that I’m sharing that with you right now is you can’t get it back.”
“Don’t miss your moment,” Reed added.
In the days, weeks and years ahead, the university’s new alums will see that their hard work over the past several years was well worth it, said KSU President Dan Papp.
“When you receive your degrees later on in the ceremony, this does not mean that you are done learning,” he said. “Indeed, the name of this ceremony is commencement, not conclusion. You are at the beginning, not the ending.”
Later in the day, students in the Coles College of Business received their degrees. Ryla CEO Mark Wilson was the commencement speaker.
On Tuesday, students in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, College of Science & Mathematics, Bagwell College of Education, College of the Arts, University College and Graduate College graduated. Guest speakers included Bill Bolling, Atlanta Community Food Bank founder, Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and Cobb Chamber President and CEO David Connell.