'Undocumented illegal immigrant' addresses Socastee High classmates as their valedictorian

'Undocumented illegal immigrant' addresses Socastee High classmates as their valedictorian

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Cinthia Zavala-Ramos stood before the more than 400 members of her graduating Socastee High School class Wednesday afternoon as their valedictorian.

From the stage of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, she let everyone in attendance – classmates, teachers, friends and family - know exactly who she is.

"The face that stands before you is the face of an undocumented illegal immigrant," Ramos said.

Like many other valedictorians before her, Ramos said she was nervous to give her speech. The reason was she thought people may walk out.

“I didn’t want to speak today because I was scared people were going to boo me or walk out. But I started to cry when the whole class stood up because I’m just surprised by how compassionate everybody is," said Ramos.

During her commencement, Ramos said she is many things: a student, a Sunday school teacher and an undocumented illegal immigrant.

“I think in order for me to tell me story I needed to get to a podium, somewhere where I proved my worth through academics," Ramos said.

Ramos' family started their journey to the U.S. from Honduras when she just 6 years old, spending many nights walking through the desert and sleeping in safe houses.

According to Ramos, her family didn't want to come to the country illegally, but she said they didn't have a choice.

"It's really hard to come here and get a visa because you need a lot of money and connections to get it approved," Ramos said. "So a lot of people are desperate to come here. They have no other choice; they have to risk it."

Ramos' moment on Wednesday was especially meaningful, as she is the first member of her family to make it past elementary school.

After finishing first in her 2017 Socastee High class, Ramos plans to attend Yale in the fall, where she plans to study bio molecular genetics.

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