A grandfather’s love drives USC art student to success – USC News

Dayanara Saucedo’s journey to graduating from USC began with a simple question: How was school?

The person asking was Saucedo’s grandfather, Eduardo Rodriguez.

“He asked this question often, daily. It was my earliest memory of him,” Saucedo said. “He was really invested in my education. He wanted me to do more than he was able to do.

A young Dayanara Saucedo shares a moment with her grandfather, Eduardo Rodriguez. (Photo/Courtesy Dayanara Saucedo)

Higher education was important to the family patriarch. He dreamed of his granddaughter becoming the first in the family to attend college – but it was a dream that probably seemed out of reach.

Saucedo’s parents, Mayra and Marcos Saucedo, immigrated from Mexico, settled in Los Angeles, and found what work they could selling baked goods and washing dishes. Eventually, the Saucedos earned enough money to rent a two-bedroom apartment in South Los Angeles, where they raised their two daughters, Dayanara and Yelena.

Their apartment was a block from USC – close but worlds away for the family and eldest daughter, Dayanara, who aspired to go to college and become an artist.

“At my school, there weren’t many opportunities to do anything related to the arts or fine arts,” she says. “The school just didn’t have the funds: the programs were cut or didn’t exist.”

Then fate intervened.

While attending the Foshay Learning Center, Dayanara, then 11, was spotted by USC member Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative, or NAI. The program helps bridge the gap between low-income, high-achieving students and access to higher education.

“Many of our NAI scholars find motivation in the NAI program to overcome multiple barriers to gaining access to higher education,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, associate senior vice president of USC Educational Partnerships. “The NAI exists to support community scholars on their journey to college, beginning with fifth year and ending with their first undergraduate degree.”

The seven-year College Preparatory Enrichment Program is designed to prepare South and East Los Angeles students for admission to any college or university, including USC.

Saucedo invested more than 100 hours a year for seven years during the NAI Saturday Academies, studying writing, math, and science and learning every step of the process to successfully apply for and attend college.

“We don’t call it a sacrifice, but we try to insert the fact that what students and families do is invest,” Thomas-Barrios said.

“We are very fond of motivational quotes at NAI and are starting our Saturday academies with them. So, in this case, I’d like to quote President Abraham Lincoln, who said, “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.

“These kids and families are sharpening the tools they’ll need to get to and through college.”

Grandfather’s constant support

Saucedo’s grandfather was a constant support, offering daily encouragement throughout the arduous process.

“He was there to make sure I never gave up,” Saucedo said.

In 2017, the hard work paid off when Saucedo was finally accepted to USC. While studying at USC Roski School of Art and Design, the young artist’s photography received awards and accolades.

However, this was Saucedo’s Spring 2021 Photobook Exhibition, Absence and loss, which received considerable attention. The artwork featured photos of the artist’s beloved grandfather, who died of COVID-19 just days before Christmas 2020. Saucedo spent junior and senior years creating artwork dedicated to Rodriguez’s memory .

“I was doing these photographs for this book of photographs on the subject of my grandfather,” Saucedo said. “It was about the process of healing and what it is like to heal in a collective form.

I decided to go through each photo… It was really heartwarming to see them.

Saucedo Dayanaragraduated from USC Roski

“The first thing I had to do to start this project was research these pictures, so my mom pulled out a box in our basement full of old photographs,” Saucedo said. “I decided to go through each photograph and choose which ones I really wanted to work with and which ones I really wanted to keep seeing every day, and that’s how I got these images for the project. It was really heartwarming to see them.

Professor David Kelley of USC Roski taught Saucedo’s Advanced Photobook Course. He noted Saucedo’s use of documentary photo skills to create touching images of the family’s rituals and grieving process.

“This experimental approach is a central strength of Dayanara’s work that sets them apart from other documentary artists,” Kelley said.

For Saucedo’s thesis project, the artist created a photo and video installation on the Los Angeles subway. The presentation contained a mix of photographs and 8mm film with narration about the Saucedo family and their history living near the transit line.

For a USC art student, anxiety and grief remain

Despite many artistic accomplishments, Saucedo confesses to intense feelings of anxiety and grief.

“With the pandemic and the recent passing of my grandfather, I felt really overwhelmed,” Saucedo said. “So every Sunday my family and I would go to the cemetery to be right there in the presence of my grandfather’s grave and that’s when I felt I could hear him say, ‘How was the ‘school? “”

That was all the motivation Saucedo needed to keep going.

In May, Dayanara Saucedo walked into USC 2022 beginning, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Saucedo’s goal is to become a professional photographer and seek outreach opportunities to help public schools in Los Angeles that lack art programs.

“Dayanara represents the best of what the Roski community produces,” said USC Roski School Dean Haven Lin-Kirk, “Perseverance, talent, and intelligence.”

More stories on: Alumni, Neighborhood Academic Initiative, Students

Kayleen C. Rice