Taking photos with parents while holding up a diploma is a rite of passage for millions of high school graduates.
One San Diego teenager, whose parents were denied entry into the U.S. for her graduation, traveled across the border into Mexico, holding her diploma and still wearing her cap and gown as if she had just stepped off the stage. Congratulatory balloons were crammed into the backseat.
Kary Munoz Lopez was born in the U.S. but both of her parents are Mexican.
“My dad lives in Nayarit,” she said. “My mom lives in Ensenada.”
Her parents were denied entry into the U.S. to attend her commencement from Serra High School in San Diego, California.
Lopez told NBC 7 that her father’s visa expired in her freshman year. Her mother’s visa was taken away in her sophomore year, the teenager said.
Like other students whose parents face issues with immigration, Lopez and her two older sisters had to relocate her graduation celebration so her parents could take part.
Serra High School Principal Erica Renfree believes Lopez is representative of so many children in San Diego County.
“There are more in this class like her,” the principal said.
Her family was determined Lopez would graduate high school in the U.S. so she lived with her two older sisters, 100 miles away from her mother.
“I almost said, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t want to be here no more,’” she told NBC 7.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder in the backseat of a vehicle on the drive to the San Ysidro border crossing, Lopez and her two older sisters recalled her struggle while one of them called ahead to let their mother know they were on the way.
“I always told my mom, this is going to make her super-super strong so don’t be heartbroken,” Lopez’ sister said, turning to her sister, “This just made you who you are now.”
Lopez needed to work a part-time job while attending school to help pay for the things she needed. Her sisters advised her to compete in athletics.
“I joined sports to keep my head out of negativity,” Lopez said. “I loved softball. I loved to play, be out there on the field.”
For a time, Lopez said she struggled with her grades. However, her mother and her school inspired her to be strong.
Not only did she graduate, but she did so with academic distinction – earning a 3.57 GPA, despite the challenges she faced in her personal life.
When asked what she would say to other teenagers in her shoes, she suggested they focus on the future.
“Even if they feel alone, they keep having to push forward in order to achieve something in life. To become someone important.” the graduate said.
“I understand there’s going to be ups and downs in the road but it’s always important to know that you’ll make it through and you’re going to keep pushing forward.”
“There’s going to be something good out of what you try to achieve.”
Lopez is pursuing a job in microblading and will enroll in community college to study for a career in the medical field.