In many ways, Citlalli Solorio speaks for a class of graduates who earned most of their credits via remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis.

SAN MARCOS — When Citlalli Solorio’s name is announced as the Class of 2022 Valedictorian at Palomar College’s commencement ceremony on May 27, among those listening will be her father, Antonio Solorio.

“I come from an immigrant family, and my dad didn’t speak the language or have a high school diploma,” Solorio recalled. “But he took English classes after work at community college—I remember him coming home very late after class. He wanted to give us a better future and a better life.”

Solorio’s father eventually enrolled in trade school, learned how to weld, and became one of the top welders at his company in San Diego: “That just makes me think,” she said, “if someone coming into this country with no opportunities, who doesn’t know the language, could accomplish something so big—I will take the opportunity to get a higher education.”

The path hasn’t been easy for Solorio—or any of the estimated 400 graduates who will gather on campus for this year’s commencement exercises.

After one normal semester—the fall of 2019—COVID-19 arrived with a variety of health and safety measures not seen in generations, including a campus-wide transition to remote learning in March 2020. The pandemic also cost her a job on campus in the Student Life & Leadership Office.

Even though she felt herself losing momentum as a result, Solorio said, “What kept me going was my family—they were always supportive. They helped me make the most of it, and I picked up a lot of summer classes to make up some time. I came to see it as an opportunity.”

In particular, Solorio’s older sister, Natalie, helped her along, having led the way to Palomar after high school and urged Citlalli to enroll in 2019.

“She was my main motivator, and my example to follow—she helped me through the financial aid process, she gave me a tour of the campus,” Citlalli recalled. “She and I are first-generation college students, and having someone as close as your sister being your guide—it was a lot of help.”

Through five semesters, Solorio maintained a 4.0 grade-point average, and has earned an associate degree in Business Administration and one in University Studies with an emphasis in math and science.

“This college has changed my vision of higher education,” she said. “I never felt alone during this tough journey as a first-generation college student.”

She ultimately aims to become a financial analyst for a large company, and is studying Finance at Cal State San Marcos.