Meet Undergraduate Student Commencement Speaker María Paula Mijares Torres
by Sarah Hojsak
May 22, 2023
María Paula Mijares Torres will represent undergraduate students as a student speaker at the 2023 College of Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony on Thursday, June 15. Mijares Torres is a communication major with a concentration in journalism and minors in political science and French. During her time at Drexel, she has worked as an intern at Bloomberg News, the Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as news editor and editorial board member of The Triangle, Drexel’s independent student newspaper. Mijares Torres is a Drexel Global Scholar, a Next Gen Fellow for the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and an Aspire Scholar. Learn more about her in the Q&A below.
How did you find out about Drexel? Why did you apply?
It's kind of funny—I found it through a YouTube video. In Venezuela, my school didn't have counselors to help you apply to international schools or anything like that. I had to find out how to take the SAT and learn what the Common App was through YouTube videos. I watched a lot of videos about U.S. colleges, and I found Drexel there. I didn’t know much about it, but I applied and was accepted with a full scholarship. And now that I'm here, I’m so glad I chose this. I like the urban campus because I grew up in a city, the co-ops are a nice opportunity that provide us with a lot of experience in our field, and I really like the people and the culture here.
What are some of your favorite things you were involved with during your time at Drexel?
Thanks to networking, I was able to get into the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists which led to a co-op with the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was the newspaper I read to learn about Philadelphia when I first moved here. All the reporters were working from home during that time—it was 2021—so I only got to see the office once on my last day, but I felt like I was able to do a lot for the community as one of the few Latino journalists in the newsroom.
I was also part of The Triangle from my freshman year until last September, and that was a big opportunity for me to get a lot of clips and training in journalism. I was writing as many articles as I could just to practice news writing, and that was super helpful for me. I was also senior editor of the Drexel chapter of Her Campus, which is a national blog. I was part of Dragons for UNICEF, and we were able to fundraise for the crisis in Yemen. We also had a panel about Venezuela and the crisis there, so that was very important for me, because I was able to inform the campus on what was going on at my home. I've also been working with the ExCITe Center, Action for Early Learning and West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood doing communications. I've been able to do profiles on the work they do for the community, and even though it's not specifically what I want to do with journalism, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the community in West Philly.
Why did you decide to pursue journalism?
In Venezuela growing up, the news was censored. That made me want to become a journalist and report everything that wasn't being reported in our country. Here at Drexel, I've really loved everything that I’ve done with journalism, in and outside of school. I realize how important it is to have that public service. Journalism keeps people in power accountable. It serves as the watchdog that can keep situations like what happened in my country from happening anywhere else.
I was very self-conscious about having an accent when I spoke English and people not understanding me, so I decided to only pursue written journalism instead of audio or broadcast. Five years later it’s crazy for me to think that I am giving a speech in this language to you all.
What’s next for you?
After graduation I'm going back to the place where I had my last co-op, Bloomberg News. There are not a lot of jobs in journalism that offer visa sponsorships, because a lot of newspapers are struggling and don’t have the funds for that. Bloomberg is one of the very few that offer that, so I'm glad that I’m able to work there again and be a journalist.
What do you hope to convey to the class of 2023 in your commencement speech?
A lot of people during my time here have told me that they need to hear stories like mine. I just want to share my story, so maybe more students will be inspired. I know other Drexel students work very hard for their goals, too, so I feel like sometimes we need to be reminded of that. College passes by so fast, and the class of 2023 has been through a lot. We've been through a whole pandemic during our college years. We've been through a lot of social changes. Some people have changed majors, some are the first in their generation to go to college. We don't always stop to acknowledge all the big things we have achieved during these four or five years, so I’m looking forward to being able to celebrate for a moment.
Do you have any advice for students just starting their college journey at Drexel?
Take every opportunity you see offered. Don't be afraid to apply to everything and see what you like and don’t like, because one of those experiences might help you. I was able to network in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists because I was an Aspire Scholar in the Pennoni Honors College, and they taught us how to network. I would have never networked if it wasn't for that, because it was such a foreign thing to me, such an American thing. We didn't do that in my country. But I realized that you can really form relationships, and your network can become your friends and mentors.
Explore the city, because it has so much to offer other than University City. Take time to socialize as well. Classes are not everything—classes are a lot, but it's not going to be your entire college experience. It's also going to be the friends you make; the connections you make to the places you've been. Take advantage of the urban campus, because it’s a very lucky thing we get to have.