Celia Zarate came to the United States unable to understand a word in English and with low expectations about the type of job she would find.
She had finished high school in Mexico but didn’t know where to go for college. One of her cousins told her about College of DuPage, so Zarate began taking ESL classes. After one semester at the advanced level, she felt ready for regular classes.
“Some people did not think I could do well, but I was determined to do a good job,” she said. “One of my first classes was Accounting 1110 and I enjoyed it a lot. Therefore, I decided to go for an accountant degree. I had wonderful, inspiring professors, such as Pamela Ledger. I remember listening to her in class and thinking that someday I would like to be as knowledgeable as she is.
“I was able to graduate with honors from College of DuPage, which demonstrated to me that I was able to reach my goals, despite the different obstacles that I encountered every day. I also was feeling confident, because I knew that everything I learned from my professors and from working at the Academic Support Center (now the Learning Commons) have shaped a better me. I will always be thankful because Rae Maslana believed in me and gave me a job as a tutor, even when I did not believe in myself.”
Zarate transferred to DePaul University to pursue her bachelor’s in Accounting. It wasn’t easy, but she appreciated the support of her family and from COD, which continued to employ her as a professional tutor. After graduating from DePaul, she was hired by Ernst & Young in Chicago, where she works as the International Tax and Transaction Services manager. She is also the co-lead for the Latinx Professional Network Chicago office, where she supports diversity and inclusiveness initiatives as well as projects to give back to the community.
In 2019, she had the opportunity to participate in one the firm’s initiatives abroad and traveled to the Amazon in Peru as an Earthwatch Ambassador.
“I am thankful for the opportunities given to me while working with Ernst & Young, which have helped me develop as a professional. Now I can support others to do the same,” she said.
Zarate will never forget the school that had so much impact on her.
“I am always proud to say that I attended College of DuPage and I am proud to see how much it is growing while continuing to provide a high level of academics,” she said. “I was a student who was not able to communicate, who did not believe in herself, and who thought I would end up washing dishes at a restaurant. While I have nothing against this honest job, when I was growing up this is mostly what I heard that people did in the U.S. to earn a living. So my expectations were not very high.
“My mindset has changed, and I found out that we set our own barriers. Even when there are people who tell you that it is impossible, there are more people believing, helping and telling you ‘You can do it!’ I am forever grateful to College of DuPage.”