Norma Torres Mendoza was troubled about her mother not being present at her Harvard graduation. So she flew to Houston, and drove her back across country to Cambridge to assure her undocumented mom, would have no trouble being there to celebrate with her on the big day.
“We didn’t want to take the risk of her being questioned,” Mendoza told the Boston Globe about her mother, who is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and lives in Texas.
Mendoza, 25 and an only child, walked across the stage Wednesday to receive her Master’s degree in public policy and international affairs from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which she attended on a full scholarship. Her mother is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, who works as a housekeeper.
Before Harvard, Mendoza received her undergraduate degree in political science and Hispanic studies from Rice – the first person in her family to get a college degree.
"I have had the pleasure of serving as Norma’s advisor this past year and she embodies the epitome of leadership, dedication, excellence, and public service. On campus, Norma is active as co-program director of the HKS Democratic Caucus, President of the Harvard Latino Student Alliance, and co-coordinator of the Public Policy and Leadership Conference," Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver, Dean of Students and Norma's graduate advisor told Fox News Latino.
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"Norma is deeply committed to mentoring and serving her fellows peers," Jackson-Weaver said.
Regardless of her accomplishments, fearing that her mother will be deported is something Mendoza struggles with. When the two came to the U.S., Norma didn’t speak a word of English.
“I came here with the mentality that education was one of the ways to escape the cycle of poverty that my mother was born into,” Mendoza said.
While a student at Rice, she helped launch a group that helps to prepare students from underserved communities, and, this summer, she will return to Houston to begin a fellowship at Mi Familia Vota, a nonprofit organization that gets Latino voters active in their communities.
"It's unbelievable because my mother comes from a very humble background," Mendoza told NBC News.
"I don't think she ever imagined that she would be at this point in her life where her daughter is getting a Master's from Harvard," she said.
Although Mendoza entered the country illegally, she is able to live, travel and work in the U.S. thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that grants immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children temporary protection from deportation.
"Norma’s personal experience has been extremely formative in solidifying her commitment to Latino youth empowerment through civic engagement and education. Last summer, she was selected a Presidential Fellow by Harvard President Drew Faust because of her work to develop an Education Center in Houston, TX which allowed her to partner with civic institutions in bolstering young people’s chances to become democratically engaged youth. Friday she was selected to receive the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership for her commitment to building community and for serving as a role model to future women leaders," Jackson-Weaver told FNL.
"[My mother] taught me the value of working hard, persevering and ensuring that we leave this country better than we found it,” Mendoza said to NBC News.
Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.