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2023 - Cristina Bahena Benitez: My diploma is just the beginning of my journey

Tags: Commencement | Graduation Essays
Published 05/22/2023
Cristina Bahena Benitez, 2023 State of Illinois High School Diploma graduation speaker

Cristina Bahena Benitez, 2023 State of Illinois High School Diploma graduation speaker

I would like to congratulate the Elgin Community College Illinois High School Diploma class of 2023 for its accomplishments. I commend every one of you for not only having the courage to pursue your diploma but also for having the strength to see it through.

For many reasons, each of us has faced challenges that lead us to make hard decisions. One of those is pursuing education. I often thought about getting my GED, but it never transpired into anything more than that. Until one day in August 2022, the thought turned into a possibility. After researching, I found the phone number of the Education and Work Center in Hanover Park – the “EWC” – where Elgin Community College has GED classes at night. I made the call, and the first step was to go to orientation.

The first day of orientation quickly arrived, and it was time to make amends. While driving to the EWC, my mind was shaking with many thoughts, good and bad. Positive and negative thoughts were rotating through my mind like a tornado in an open field. Also, on my mind was the thought: Are they going to give me the typical sermon, “You should have finished your studies; you should have made better decisions.” However, the people from the EWC did not care about my past; their only concern was my future. They put me on the right path out of the maze, and before I knew it, I had earned my GED.

Although earning my GED was a life goal, it is not the end. Earning my GED is a proud moment, and many people were proud of me. I could have easily stopped there. However, earning my GED was just the beginning of the journey; my final destination will be earning a degree from Elgin Community College.

We often dream about many things, and they usually remain dreams. However, I now have a dream that has turned into a reality. Understanding the value of education is now embedded in my mind.

A lot of people ask me what the difference between my life now and before is, and I tell them it is simple: Before, education was an obligation, and now it is a privilege.

The time spent at the Education Work Center turned into a life-changing experience. My success, as well as your success, wouldn’t have happened without each and every one of the staff members and my teacher, Laura Azcoitia. Thank you, Ms. Azcoitia, for representing the best of ECC; for your time, your patience, and your encouragement; for supporting us and for caring about us. Thank you for inspiring us to learn and to help others the way you have.

We no longer look back over our shoulders, we no longer look down. We now look straight forward, focused directly on the future.

I want to close by saying to the Elgin Community College staff, each and every one of you:

“On behalf of the class of 2023, we not only thank you for your unbiased support, but we also salute you for your extraordinary efforts.”


Cristina Bahena Benitez, Hanover Park

State of Illinois High School Diploma, Class of 2023