President Shirley M. Collado's Parents Celebrate Their Daughter's Inauguration

Among the many people celebrating the inauguration of President Shirley M. Collado on November 4, two people in particular were overcome with pride: her parents. Andres and Carmen Collado traveled to Ithaca to watch their daughter— the first in their family to graduate from college—become the first Dominican American college president in the United States.

“For me as a father, I cannot feel more proud of her,” Andres said.

They may have been proud, but not surprised. For as long as they can remember, Shirley was driven, eager to learn and work hard. When she was just 14, Shirley began working in a restaurant. She told her parents that she wanted to go to a good college. Her mother worried about how they’d afford her education, but Shirley asserted she’d pay her way through by washing dishes if she had to.

That work ethic was modeled by her parents. Immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Carmen worked in a factory while taking English and computer classes at night, eventually getting a job in the factory’s billing office; Andres drove a taxi at least six, sometimes seven days a week.

“Having a kid is not easy, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices,” said Andres. “You have to work hard, be a good role model, and every day is a job that you have to continue teaching them right from wrong.”

Thanks to the support of The Posse Foundation, an organization that recruits and trains outstanding student leaders from urban high schools and sends them in diverse teams, or “posses,” to attend top colleges and universities in the United States, Shirley was able to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

While they always wanted Shirley to attend college, it was difficult for Carmen and Andres to have her so far from home. Carmen would become emotional when cooking Shirley’s favorite meals, like arroz con pollo. “I didn’t cook it for three or four months because it made me cry,” she said.

Even though they were separated by hundreds of miles, Andres and Carmen did what they could to give Shirley the support she needed to succeed at Vanderbilt, calling her often and sending her some money when they could. And years later when Shirley told them she was considering taking on the role of college president, Andres and Carmen were still there supporting her.

Because Shirley and her family know firsthand the challenges that face first-generation college students, expanding access to higher education has become a priority in her career. She founded the Creating Connections Consortium (C3), which helps first-generation and other underrepresented students become professors. She also served as The Posse Foundation’s executive vice president, helping more students like her go to college.

Since arriving in Ithaca, she has spoken about the need for the college to be more responsive to the needs of a more diverse generation of students.

It’s those things that make Carmen and Andres truly proud of Shirley. They’re thrilled with her professional success, but what they really wanted was for her to be a good person and a role model for others.

“The dream that I’ve had all my life is that my kids can be good people in the future, good examples to so many young kids,” said Carmen.