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Madruga siblings: First-generation college success story
Madruga siblings
Siblings Helen, Isabel, Paul, Teresa and Daniel Madruga are a first-generation college student success story, as all five have graduated from Stanislaus State (Photo contributed).

When Joe and Connie Madruga immigrated to the United States from the Azores 50 years ago, they dreamed of a life where their future children could achieve their wildest dreams. Last week, their own dreams were realized when their fifth and final child walked the stage at Stanislaus State to accept his degree — the last of the Madruga children to graduate from the university as first-generation college students.

“It feels pretty good,” Daniel Madruga said. He accepted his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting during Stanislaus State’s commencement ceremony on May 24, but wasn’t the first in his family to walk across the stage.

Prior to Daniel, his sisters Helen and Isabel first graduated in 1999 and 2002, respectively, with Liberal Arts degrees. Then, in 2003, their brother Paul graduated with a Finance degree, and in 2009, their sister Teresa earned a Psychology degree.

For the Portuguese family whose beginnings stem from the small Azores Islands, all five children graduating from the same university is quite the accomplishment, Daniel said, especially when considering Connie has just a high school education while Joe left school after the fourth grade.

It was because of this that the Madruga children’s parents instilled in them a love for learning very early on.

“It was never a question of whether or not we would go to college. If we got a B, it was like getting an F,” Daniel said. “That was the way they pushed us…without that push for education, who knows where we would have ended up?”

Now, the Madruga parents will soon have seven degrees between their five children. Teresa has also earned her masters in Psychology, and Daniel was recently accepted to earn a masters degree of his own in the University of California, Davis.

“When I look around at the Portuguese community, it’s either kids whose parents made it with business when the economy was good and now they’re taking over whatever their parents started, or it’s families who have next to nothing,” Daniel said. “There are very few families like ours, who are in between where we didn’t inherit a business but we’re still doing something with our lives.”

The Madruga family’s experience at Stanislaus State has given the children a unique perspective on the rising costs of college tuition as well. When Helen graduated in 1999, she was paying just hundreds per semester. In comparison, Daniel was paying about $3,000 per semester up until the time he graduated. With costs for university and living in general on the rise, Daniel worked full-time for the past two years and attended night classes — a common occurrence for first-generation students like himself, he said, who are trying to make their way through school.

The Madruga children were able to live at home while attending school, which helped with expenses, and studying at a university like Stanislaus State where a majority of its students are first-generation made it easier to keep up.

“We were all first-generation students who had day jobs, and our professors very much understood that,” Daniel said. “I’m pretty happy with the education I got there…you’re not going to a fancy college where you can go hang out in the dorms all day or catch a football game, but you’re getting a good education nonetheless.”

Coming from a family that knows the value of hard work contributed to their success in school, Daniel added, as the Madruga children would often help their parents with a variety of jobs, whether it was working out on the dairy or helping with landscaping. Today, that work ethic has paid off.

“It was either make good choices and go to college, or go work outside in the Valley heat in the middle of August,” Daniel laughed. “It was an easy choice.”