When Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) graduate student Riccardo Jean crosses the stage to receive his diploma on Friday, it will add to a long list of firsts in his family.
Born to Haitian immigrants as the sixth of seven children, Jean was not only a first generation college student but also the first person in his family to receive a high school diploma.
Growing up, Jean’s family relocated several times before settling in Jacksonville, Fla., where his mother worked as a nanny and his father as a grocer. Though his parents had a limited education, Jean said they worked tirelessly to ensure that he was able to attain the academic success they had only dreamed of for themselves.
“It really is like the American dream story for immigrant families,” Jean said. “Now that I’m older, I truly understand the value of everything they did for me, so getting these degrees is just a return on the investment they made in my future. ”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2011 from FAMU, Jean enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he said he gained the focus and maturity that led him to pursue his master’s degree. Upon completion of basic training, he returned to the University to obtain his graduate degree in molecular cell biology.
Now that he has presented his thesis, Jean said all there’s left to do is cross the stage—a feat he believes would be impossible without his parents.
“When they brought me here to the United States, there was only one thing I had to do, and that was focus on school and further my education,” Jean said. “I’m really trying to make them proud and get another degree after this one.”
Jean said he is truly beginning to understand the magnitude of this accomplishment. However, he explained, that this is just another stepping stone to help him reach his ultimate goal of becoming a medical doctor.
With two and a half years of ROTC and basic training under his belt, Jean is preparing to commission into the U.S. Army as an officer. He will then go to branch school, and from there he plans to attend medical school.
Reflecting on his time as an undergraduate student, Jean said he faced most challenges because he did not have someone in his family who could relate to what he was going through as a student. Now that he is completing his second degree, Jean dedicates much of his free time to mentoring young people who may find themselves in the same predicament.
As a member of the Upsilon Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., he has mentored high school students who have gone on to enroll in college. When speaking with future first generation college students, Jean said he encourages them to leave a new legacy of education in their families.
“It’s about being better, making a difference, and making an impact on the people around you,” Jean said. “When I get older and have children, they now have that standard, and I know that’s all my parents have ever wanted. They needed me to set that new standard in our family, and I believe I have.”