Esmeralda Cirilo, Harold Washington College’s 2023 salutatorian, grew up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and attended Community Links High School. As the daughter of two hardworking immigrants, she took their values of determination and resilience to heart and dedicated herself to excelling in school. She graduated in 2020 as her high school’s valedictorian.

Esmeralda then started her college journey at Harold Washington with the support of the Star Scholarship. Like many other students, she found the shift to virtual learning challenging at first, but she soon discovered she had a knack for navigating online learning environments. She joined virtual study groups and online tutoring sessions and stayed in touch with her teachers and classmates when they couldn’t meet in person.

Esmeralda worked throughout college, and she often found herself helping coworkers complete tasks like onboarding paperwork when they were confused or overwhelmed. The experience inspired her to pursue a future career in the field of HR. Now that she has earned her associate degree from Harold Washington, Esmeralda plans to continue her journey towards that goal by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human resources.