Class of ’24: The Pandemic and Humble Beginnings Fueled This Hoo’s Drive To Succeed

April 24, 2024 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

Leslie Oviedo’s high school graduation ceremony was virtual, like most in the United States in 2020, when the country shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She remembers the hot June 6 day in her home in Baytown, Texas, for its multitasking.

As the virtual ceremony unfolded online, Oviedo; her mother, Blanca Calvo; and several family members busily packed the contents of the small, one-bedroom apartment where she, her mom and older brother Adrian lived during her senior year. As was the case for so many people during the pandemic, Leslie’s mother, then a janitor, had been let go from her job, and the lost paychecks forced the family to reshuffle their housing arrangements.

Oviedo’s graduation ceremony from KIPP Northeast College Preparatory high school in Houston began streaming on her laptop at 5 p.m. Her computer sat on the kitchen table, a detail she remembers because her family had not yet packed it. 

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“We were just looking at the screen,” she recalled. “And then I remember getting really emotional at some point because they showed clips of us, and I was able to see my teachers one last time.”

What had been packed away that day was Oviedo’s high school cap and gown. There would be no in-person procession, punctuated with in-person speeches, hugs or high-fives, or in-person parties. There had been no prom, either.

And there would be no symbolic turning of the tassel on Oviedo’s mortarboard from the right side to the left side that Saturday, signifying her graduation from high school.

Oviedo will finally get that opportunity when she walks the Lawn May 19 at the University of Virginia as one of the sturdy students in the Class of 2024.

Humble and High-Achieving

Like many college-bound students, Oviedo, a member of the National Honor Society in her high school years, spent her senior year applying to schools. But as a first-generation college student, she largely had to figure things out on her own. She submitted forms to 13 universities. “I remember our high school actually required everybody to apply to at least nine colleges. And if you were in the top 10%, they made you apply to at least 12.” Because everyone in her high school received reduced-price meals, college application fees were waived.

Then, she got the lifeline she was hoping for: a full academic scholarship to UVA, her first choice.

A high achiever and yet humble to her core, Oviedo explained her ambition this way: “Going into (my senior) school year, my biggest focus was on college and applying to as many scholarships as possible, because I knew, given our circumstances, that my family would not be able to help me financially.”

A Drive To Succeed

Like many first-generation students, Oviedo said she didn’t arrive on Grounds feeling like she belonged there. She said her background had a lot to do with what is commonly described as “imposter syndrome.” 

“She wanted to tackle another challenging question and she never gave up.” – Lanfei Shi

As is the case with many students, she said she eventually found her people.

“I just surrounded myself with the right people,” she said. “A lot of my friends come from similar backgrounds that I do, and so we were just kind of able to uplift each other.”

When UVA Today first interviewed Oviedo in 2020, she’d already set her sights on getting into the McIntire School of Commerce, UVA’s undergraduate business school. When she was accepted, her confidence grew. “I was able to speak up and ask questions about things that I wouldn't have in the past,” she said.

Her professors took notice. Lanfei Shi, an assistant professor of commerce, remembers where Oviedo sat in her database and business intelligence course last spring because she was so engaged. During one class, Shi asked a challenging question and Oviedo raised her hand. 

“She was the only one to volunteer an answer,” Shi said. Oviedo gave the wrong answer. Undeterred, the student came back with the answer to another question and was correct. “She wanted to tackle another challenging question and she never gave up,” Shi said.

The Future

Oviedo began interning with Accenture, a consulting firm headquartered in Ireland, as a high school student. Summer after summer and into her college years, she returned, and leaders at the firm asked her to speak to newcomers as a tried-and-true seasoned Accenture intern pro.

To help cover costs, Oviedo has been a student worker since her first year. She said she’s loved working at the Women’s Center this year. “I’ve been able to meet a lot of amazing people there and the other student employees have become friends,” she said. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

“In high school, she was a member of our Accenture Business Scholars Club program,” said Morgan Hodge, a strategy and consulting manager at the firm, which has offices around the world.

“Leslie was really engaged in a lot of the different professional and career development workshops and opportunities that we host through the club,” Hodge said. “She was able to speak to the students who were there in her position before as juniors and seniors in our business club. It was nice because there’s a familiar face in the same kind of environment as these students and she was able to say, ‘This is my experience, this is my journey.’ That level of engagement and that journey is rare.” 

Oviedo will join Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company, as a full-time technology analyst in Austin, Texas, this summer. She said she’s “nervous and excited.”

“I think the excitement takes over because the idea of entering this new stage as a first-generation student is so rewarding,” she said. “It brings me a lot of happiness knowing that I was able to achieve all of the goals I placed for myself, despite adversity and I’m excited to see what else I can accomplish!”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications