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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

JOURNAL: Crossing the stage

Photo by Katie Craig
Julia Basurto-Gutierrez is studying to be a mechanical engineering.

From the eager buzz of excitement from friends and family to the soon-to-be graduates clothed in gowns with a variety of colorful stoles, cords, tassels and cap decorations, some see graduation as a rewarding date on the calendar. For others, it’s just another reminder of adulthood fast approaching.

For Marquette University’s 2023 commencement ceremony, graduates are guaranteed just four tickets to give to loved ones. However, no matter the number of tickets, some graduates believe the impact of the moment reaches far more than themselves and the people they bring.

Just ask senior in the College of Health Sciences, James Hightower, who is pursuing a career as a neurosurgeon.

“Growing up I always liked (studying) the body and I liked the idea of surgery,” Hightower says. “A lot of times you’re told of how rigorous it is to become a doctor and how long the path is and how not many people can make it.”

Hightower has not had many Black doctors to look up to either. Black people make up over 13% of the U.S. population, but roughly 5% of all doctors are Black, according to a 2018 study from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The lack of representation and mentorship led Hightower to choose to major in business a major that Hightower says resulted in a boring academic experience to start.

Hightower cites his sister Jamie, who is a Marquette alum, and Dr. Abdul-Ghaffaar Clark as key figures in pushing him to switch majors and pursue a career that has always been his passion, no matter what the statistics say.

“(Dr. Clark) acts as a mentor to make sure I am on the right path,” Hightower says. “(Helping with) any resources that I might need to get access to and reaffirming that I can do this.”

Julia Basurto-Gutierrez, a senior in the College of Engineering and first-generation student, says she did not have to look far for any sign of motivation, rather it was at home in Milwaukee.

“One of the biggest leaders is my mom. She’s a kindergarten teacher aid, so seeing how she’s able to interact with different ages … She’s able to go to parents and help solve problems with them, that’s what inspires me to (lead) others,” Basurto-Gutierrez says. “It’s mostly her impact on the community by being able to communicate with them.”

Basurto-Guiterrez is pursuing a career in mechanical engineering, a field that sees 90.5% of workers being men. In a 2020 study from the U.S. National Science Foundation, 17% of graduates with a Bachelor’s degree identified as Hispanic or Latinx. A 2021 Pew Research study sees that number drop to 8% when looking at overall jobs in STEM.

“My biggest motivation is honestly being one of the few,” Basurto-Gutierrez says. “I don’t want future generations to feel how I am feeling right now saying, ‘Oh, there’s no one like me.’ Not only am I a Latina, but I’m also a girl … Reaching out and seeing professors that are women is what motivates me too.”

Basurto-Guiterrez is finding ways to impact others outside of the College of Engineering. She is the president of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc., a multicultural sorority that focuses on empowering women. She says being involved with her sorority has encouraged her to take on opportunities and attend more events outside of her college.

No matter how much motivation Hightower and Basurto-Gutierrez glean from their interactions with others, both explain how graduating will mean much more for their families and for the next generation.

“I think I’ll be full of emotions. I would have proved to myself that I made it through the rigor of the pre-med life and culture,” Hightower says. “I would have proved to myself that I have what it takes to go to medical school … I do have a lot more schooling left, but it shows that life is like a staircase — you take it one step at a time. Once I step up on this step, I’ll be looking at the next one ready to conquer that one.”

When thinking about crossing the stage, Basurto-Gutierrez thought about how much it would mean to her parents, who she says both emphasized the importance of education.

“My parents would say there are proud of me,” Basurto-Guiterrez says. “They both emigrated from Mexico and left everything there and came here. (My mom) has seen me stay up late at night. She would say she’s proud of me because I was able to overcome a lot of the obstacles I had to face initially. It solidifies that all the hard work I put in is paying off.”

While Hightower and Basurto-Guiterrez look toward the next chapter, Myra Zaki, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, already feels encouraged to major in biomedical sciences and pursue a career in the pharmaceutical field.

Biological sciences is a career field that is roughly 67.7% white, but like many students of color, her passion is greater than the numbers.

“What encouraged me to keep going was the desire to be that representation,” Zaki says. “I think that’s really important in the healthcare field … being able to graduate and be a pharmacist, I would be a representation to any girl that wants to go into pharmacy. If I saw a brown, woman pharmacist, I would be more encouraged to pursue that.”

Although she will have to wait till 2025 to cross the stage, Zaki says she can already picture the moment clearly.

“The visual I have of seeing my parents in the crowd and seeing one of their daughters graduate, I think that’s the one thing I am working towards and the one thing that pushes me to keep going in higher education,” Zaki says. “I know they went through a lot coming to America and made a lot of sacrifices, not only financially but culturally too. Graduation is going to be an important day for me.”

For Basurto-Gutierrez, her fast-approaching “important day” makes her reflect on what her graduate self would say to her now.

“She would tell me you finally did it, but there’s more to do,” Basurto-Gutierrez says. “Don’t stop learning just because you crossed the stage. (Education) opens doors that you did not know were possible. Push yourself to be better not only for yourself but for those around you and for future generations.”

This story was written by Andrew Amouzou. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Katie Craig
Katie Craig, Staff Photographer
Katie is a Staff Photographer at the Wire. She is a first-year from Lakeville, MN studying digital media and minoring in advertising. In her free time, Katie enjoys photography and hanging out with her friends. This year Katie is looking forward to getting to know more people and improving her photography skills.

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