UI student to honor father at commencement

Antonio Cortez spent his working life picking lemons and onions for minimum wage, joined by his children in the summers to make ends meet.

A farm laborer from Mexico and later California, he had no formal education but made sure his children did.

On Sunday, the youngest of his 10 children will walk across the University of Illinois Assembly Hall stage and receive her doctoral degree, the first in their large extended family to do so.

Antonio Cortez, 84, will stand by her side. Rufina Cortez asked him to take part in her Ph.D. "hooding" ceremony, along with her adviser and a niece.

"For me, it's my gift to him," Rufina Cortez said last week. "This is a big sacrifice, not having me around all these years when I've been away at school. This ceremony is for my family. They deserve it."

At one time, it appeared this day might never happen.

When Rufina Cortez was applying to the UI, her father suffered a stroke while traveling to visit his sister in Mexico. He was deathly ill, and Rufina Cortez considered postponing her plans.

"I didn't know whether he was going to survive," she said.

But he improved, and she moved to Champaign-Urbana in 2004 to pursue her dream of a doctorate in education policy studies. READ MORE

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