College has long been a theme in Alejandro Diasgranados’ classroom at Aiton Elementary School in Northeast Washington, D.C. The teacher’s third and fourth graders’ reading groups were named after prestigious universities like Stanford and Johns Hopkins, and the Laurel resident had shared with his students that he was pursuing his master’s degree in education at Johns Hopkins.
His students, he said, expressed that they wanted to attend his graduation months ago, but he wasn’t sure the plan would come into fruition.
In April, with graduation just weeks away, Diasgranados, known as “Mr. Dias” to his pupils, realized that while he had taught students about college, they had never experienced it firsthand.
“I really wanted my students to see how it feels to put a cap on,” he said.
The 26-year-old teacher spearheaded a fundraiser that garnered more than $2,000 on GoFundMe to pay for buses to Baltimore, food and tickets to the National Aquarium on the day of his graduation. Diasgranados also purchased graduation caps and matching T-shirts for the students that read “I am college bound” in school colors.
And on Wednesday, Diasgranados, a first-generation college graduate, walked the stage to receive his master’s, with family members, professors and 40 cheering students in the crowd.
“Kids were crying tears of joy. They were standing on chairs,” Diasgranados said. “They really got to see my whole family — my mom being very emotional and congratulating me — to help them really understand the importance and the value of education. … It was more than anyone could ask for.”
Diasgranados said the experience was even more important to him because he wanted students, who live in the same area that he grew up in, to see someone who looks like them and has endured similar struggles walk across the stage.
“It’s important to see what they’re working towards. They can see the final product,” he said.
Kinaya Jackson, 8, said the experience was new to her because “many people don’t really get to go to college.”
“Everybody was very excited, and family came from different places,” Kinaya said, adding that she and her peers made posters for Diasgranados.
“I feel like I learned that when I grow up, I can graduate, too, and mostly if you can graduate, you can do many things to be a teacher, doctor or athlete,” said Kinaya, who wants to be a teacher and a soccer or tennis player.
“I feel motivated and happy for my teacher,” she said.
Malaika Golden, 43, the principal of Aiton Elementary School, said the event was like the “grand finale” of the college theme Diasgranados has promoted in his classroom.
“This is a prime example of dedication and when you care about your students,” she said. “You care about your students currently, but you’re also caring about their future, and being a positive role model — taking it that extra mile.”
Diasgranados said the experience was rewarding for both him and his students.
“I’ve had the students for two years, three years some of them. I’ve seen them grow, and they’ve seen me grow as a teacher. They’ve helped me the entire way,” he said.
And the journey will continue. Diasgranados said he plans to teach the same students next year.
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“It was really good to see that the learning doesn’t stop. They see me as a teacher, and now, they see me as a student,” he said.