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Ceidy’s Story: Stepping Up as a Leader at Home as Classes Move Online

Ceidy Ovalle, a Chicago Scholar from the Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago, poses for a photo at Denison University.

As her Organic Chemistry class comes to an end, Ceidy Ovalle closes her computer and heads upstairs. She has an hour before Biology starts, and she hopes to use the time to tutor her nine-year-old brother, who has autism and ADHD, and answer any questions he might have about his school work. After Biology is her Spanish Writing class, and after Spanish Writing, Ceidy is going to drive her mom to work. Then, after all of that, her day will really start to get busy with homework, attending office hours, Science Writing class, and more tutoring before Ceidy eventually returns to pick her mom up from work at 1:00 in the morning.

Like many of our Scholars whose colleges and universities have moved to virtual classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ceidy has returned to Chicago and is stepping up as a leader at home while learning to navigate a new online system of classes and coursework. She’s maintained excellent grades in all of her classes, and she’s determined to be there for her family during difficult times. “It’s been very challenging,” Ceidy says. “But I am definitely glad that I’m able to spend this time with my family.”

As a freshman Biology major and Spanish minor at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, Ceidy felt like she was just starting to adjust to life on campus when she and her fellow classmates had to pack up their belongings and head home for the remainder of the semester. At Denison, Ceidy was incredibly involved on campus and an expert at finding resources and support. She was a wellness ambassador at the school’s clinic, a teaching assistant, a research assistant, Secretary of the multicultural organization La Fuerza Latina, a Posse Scholar, a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar, and a Chicago Scholar. She frequently went to the library and attended study groups. Now, she studies in the basement at home, attends virtual office hours, and has video calls with friends and lab partners.

Ceidy (center) became a Chicago Scholar during the summer before her senior year of high school.

“I was very homesick my first semester, and I was just exploring the resources on campus. I was discovering new places to study or to hang out with friends,” Ceidy says. “Now, it’s just completely different. Studying is different, doing homework is different. I’m navigating a new system regarding my science labs and tests. But I’m managing it well, and I’m motivated to persevere.”

By far, the biggest change in Ceidy’s life has been adding her responsibilities at home to her already busy college schedule. But her family, especially her relationship with her younger brother, keeps her motivated. “I come from a low-income family, and I’m a first-generation college student. I want to be able to set an example for my little brother. He has a lot of difficulties in school because he does have ADHD and autism,” Ceidy says. “He talks about how he wants to be an engineer and work with cars. I want to be a role model for him and show him that he can do it.”

On top of the hours spent tutoring her younger brother every day, Ceidy drives her mom to and from her job, where she cleans and sanitizes offices in Chicago. Because both of her parents have preexisting health conditions, Ceidy does all of her family’s grocery shopping to help minimize her parents’ possible exposure to COVID-19.

Ceidy poses for a picture with her family during a visit to Denison University.

When asked how she is able to balance all of her responsibilities and excel in her classes, Ceidy points to the people who are there for her. “I feel like I have amazing supporters, amazing friends, and I have a Chicago Scholars mentor and also a Posse mentor that I can reach out to whenever I need help.” Ceidy says. “I feel like having that strong support system has really helped.”

But at the end of the day, it’s Ceidy’s natural leadership and ability to preserve that allows her to be there for her family while transitioning to online classes. Her dreams for the future are clear — she wants to become a bilingual Physician Assistant so that she can give back to those in need of medical help, just like medical professionals have done for her family throughout her life. “My goals aren’t only mine,” Ceidy says. “They are the product of two strong individuals — my parents — who came to the United States so I could become a successful and thoughtful leader. My journey is just starting.”