Not long ago, Cesar Galarza worked as a welder and provided emotional sustenance to individuals through his West Side church, where he now serves as senior pastor.
Although he has a knack for helping people and dreamed of becoming a social worker, the 41-year-old father of two said, “I didn’t think I was college material.”
His daughter, Clarimar Galarza, not only encouraged her father to attend college but also inspired him to earn a bachelor’s degree alongside her at Buffalo State College.
The father and daughter will receive degrees in social work and art education, respectively—and both with honors—during the college’s virtual 149th Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 15. Their names will be read during Buffalo State’s virtual School of Arts and Humanities and School of the Professions baccalaureate ceremonies broadcast online at noon.
“Art is like magic to children, and I love getting to teach them about art from the starting process. It’s so much fun to see them learn and grow.”
“It was fantastic to go to school with my daughter,” said Cesar Galarza, who first earned a GED and an associate’s degree from SUNY Erie Community College (ECC).
Language was one barrier for the Puerto Rico native who moved his family to Buffalo in 2008.
“I had to learn to write in English,” he said. “But I also questioned if I was too old to go to college. I wondered: Have I lost my chance?”
Cesar Galarza exudes an optimism for life and pride in his oldest child, who was accepted into the Honors Program and the Ross B. Kenzie Family Presidential Scholarship program, received three art education scholarships and two awards for excellence, and made the dean’s list every semester since she began at Buffalo State in 2017.
The senior Galarza, who was recently accepted into the graduate program at the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work, mirrored his daughter’s accomplishments.
“Once I got to college, I took it seriously,” he said.
Cesar Galarza made the dean’s list ever since beginning at ECC, which he attended while working full time as a welder. He will graduate summa cum laude and receive the Excellence in Social Work Award.
After transferring to Buffalo State in fall 2019, he realized he wasn’t the only nontraditional student. Far from it. And he fell in love with the courses that supported his passion for helping others.
Likewise, Clarimar Galarza said she realized the minute she shared her portfolio with Alice Pennisi, associate professor of art education, that Buffalo State’s art education program was the perfect fit. She soon discovered a love for ceramics, in particular, and she plans to teach art at the elementary level.
“Art is like magic to children, and I love getting to teach them about art from the starting process,” she said. “It’s so much fun to see them learn and grow.”
“Youth is the population I want to help as a social worker. Getting that internship was a blessing.”
This spring Clarimar Galarza completed her student teaching at Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Multicultural Institute (Buffalo Public School 48), where she worked with children from many cultures.
“I was very lucky that my professors and mentors knew I wanted to get experience teaching bilingually,” she said. “And they helped place me as a bilingual teacher.”
Likewise, Cesar Galarza got to work with local students this spring through the Compeer mentoring program at Maryvale High School.
“Youth is the population I want to help as a social worker,” he said. “Getting that internship was a blessing.”
For the elder Galarza, one of the best parts of attending Buffalo State was driving to campus with his daughter and meeting her for lunch.
“It was hard to get her out of the ceramics studio some days,” he joked.
Last summer, they took two online courses together: Twentieth-Century Europe and History of Cinema. History is a subject they both love, and it was a bonding experience.
“We spent some of the difficult days of the pandemic watching black-and-white movies together and talking about them,” the younger Galarza said.
Her father quipped, “She did better in that class than I did.”
When they share their story, they laugh often, finish each other’s sentences, and emphasize how they helped one another as students, especially during one of the most challenging times in modern history.
“If we got tired or felt like it was all too much, we’d talk through our assignments and everything,” Clarimar Galarza said. “We knew we weren’t alone. We knew we could overcome anything.”