As we continue our series, "A Tale of Two Cities," which looks at the lives of a diverse group of families trying to get ahead, we turn to a Brooklyn woman who's working to overcome many obstacles. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
With an honor chord draped around her neck, Yacselin Lopez graduates cum laude from Brooklyn College with a bachelors degree in education.
"It has been a long journey. It took me about six years to graduate," Lopez says.
The Sunset Park resident is now 26 years old and is the first in her family to go to college.
She was born in Puebla, Mexico. Her mother brought her to New York when she was two years old and she got her residency as a child.
As a teenager, she got pregnant.
"I did have my child at an early age. I had my daughter when I was 17. I was finishing up high school," Lopez says.
Lopez transferred to an alternative high school in Red Hook.
South Brooklyn Community High School gives students who drop out a second chance. It was there she started thinking about college.
"Both of my parents were working. I never had that academic support as to helping me get through college or even applying to college. At the same time, I didn't know how I would pay my years through college. My greatest motivation was my daughter to be able to achieve this," Lopez says.
A high school counselor told her about the state program called SEEK, which stands for "Search for Education Elevation and Knowledge." It's designed to help students who are financially or academically disadvantaged pursue a college degree. Lopez went to college through SEEK when her daughter was three years old.
"Having my daughter see that for her, to inspire her to go to college. To make her see that her mom was able to graduate regardless of what happened in the past as a teenage mom. I know that I want to just provide the best for her," Lopez says.
Graduation made her family proud and sentimental.
"With so many sacrifices, she did it. I'm happy," Ruth Europa, Lopez' mother, says in Spanish.
"Oh, wow. It makes me want to go back to school," says Lopez' boyfriend, Alejandro Bautista.
"I feel happy," her daughter says.
Now it's off to find a job. Lopez is looking for an elementary school teaching position and a master's degree program. Now that she's qualified to apply for both.
We'll keep you updated on her progress.