First-Generation American Earns Master’s After Brother’s Death

Maritza Vicente, 23, poses for a photo on campus a few days before graduating with her master's degree in general counseling.When Maritza Vicente was a little girl, she dreamed about attending college. On Monday, the 23-year-old graduated for the second time — with a master’s degree in general counseling.

“I can’t believe that I’m here,” Vicente said.

She is the first person in her family to earn an undergraduate degree, let alone a Master of Science. Neither of her parents completed primary school growing up in the village of Tacaná, Guatemala.

“I feel very humbled,” Vicente said. “I told my parents, ‘Thank you so much.’”

Vicente credits her mom with supporting her spiritually and her dad with instilling a strong work ethic. When she was younger, he’d bring her to his jobs washing windows, pressure cleaning or mowing lawns. As an adult, she took counseling classes at night while working by day as a floating teacher at The Greene School.

Vicente earned her bachelor’s degree in human performance and sport from PBA in 2017, with a jump start from the Bridges Scholar Program. During her sophomore year, her brother Benamar “Benny” was killed while walking home from work in what police said was a random act of violence.

Rather than take a semester off, Vicente kept going and didn’t stop until she finished her counseling degree. Her interest in counseling is motivated by her compassion for children, especially children affected by alcoholism in the Hispanic community, she said. She was fascinated by Professor of Counseling Dr. Philip Henry’s lessons about the way addiction retrains the brain.

In the graduate program, she’s also sharpened her knowledge of learning disabilities — which is relevant to her work at The Greene School leading a program for students who have difficulty reading. She loves working at the innovative school and plans to continue.

In the future, she hopes to write her family’s stories. Her parents are in awe of all that she’s accomplished, but she says they deserve as much credit, if not more, than she does.

“My parents have been a great support to my education for sure.”

Photo: Maritza Vicente, 23, poses for a photo on campus a few days before graduating with her master's degree in general counseling.