This year, medical students are graduating during a historic moment and many of them will join the front lines of health care workers who are helping fight the coronavirus.
Usually gradating from medical school comes with a big graduation ceremony, but the Class of 2020 at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, will join a virtual graduation on June 6.
For graduates like Gabriel Ceceñas, not having the traditional big ceremony is OK. He said he is just happy to become a physician.
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and for a long time I didn’t know if I could do it, and now that I was able to do it, it felt great," Ceceñas said.
Wednesday, he leaves for Kansas City where he'll enter his intern year of residency at the University of Missouri Kansas City emergency medical program.
He said he's ready to join the front lines in battling the pandemic.
"I'm not nervous. I trust that my professors and my attendings are going to take care of their students, I’m not worried for myself," he said. “I’m sort of excited to see what's going to happen and the development that’s going to come up and what we find out later on," Ceceñas said. "I’m most excited to be a doctor now."
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The 30-year-old is originally from Mexico and moved to Texas when he was 15.
“I didn’t know any English, I had zero English background," Ceceñas said. " I didn’t want to take extra time from high school, so I was like, ‘I have to learn English in two years.'"
He mastered the language and graduated from Lake Worth High School. He then attended Tarrant County College and transferred to Texas Wesleyan University, where he completed his undergraduate degree. He managed to work to pay off his bills during this time.
“I wanted to be a doctor ever since I probably was a little kid," Ceceñas said. "I wanted to do something in medicine and I decided in the middle of my college years that doctor is way to go."
After college, he met his wife, got married, had a child and took some time off while he worked. He took his MCAT, the admission test for medical school, and was accepted into TCOM.
"Medical school has been great, a lot of people don’t like it, a lot of people suffer through it, but I feel like my struggles before then prepared me for this is what I really really want to do," he said.
Ceceñas' journey also came with a major hurdle -- he was undocumented.
He was under the Differed Action Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, between 2013 and 2015. He said this gave him the opportunity to push through with his studies.
“So DACA was a very important part of my education and why I was able to get into medical school, because without that I wouldn’t be able to," he said.
He became an U.S. citizen last year.
"I’m a firm believer of the American dream. If you put it that way, if you work hard and you have to have a goal in mind then make sure you work hard everyday for that goal," Ceceñas said.
His motivation also comes from his parents, who he said only have an elementary level education. He said they brought him and his siblings to the United States so they could live a better life and to help pay for his two older siblings' university education back in Mexico.
"My parents only finished elementary school, so like fifth or sixth grade in learning. My dad was a farmer, my mom was a house wife in Mexico. Here, they transitioned into very blue collar jobs. My dad is a welder, my mom works in the food industry," Ceceñas said. "Their education was nonexistent I guess, but they always, always encouraged us to get something better, there was never an option if you should go to college. It was like, 'You're going to college.'"
His older brother took their advice and became a doctor. Several other siblings are pursing careers in the medical field.
Ceceñas said he hoped his story would motivate others who may question their future, and wants people to remember not to get discouraged.
"Minorities or immigrants have struggles because they don’t have role models and I want to be like, 'Hey if I can do it, you can too,'" Ceceñas said.