FIU Business Now Magazine
Honoring a Family's Resilience by Lifting Students in Need

Honoring a Family's Resilience by Lifting Students in Need

By Karen-Janine Cohen

Ricardo Vazquez is an international relations student who expects to graduate this spring. Yet as the 2021–2022 school year loomed, he knew he might need assistance if he was to actualize his dreams of impacting educational policy for underserved populations.

"I was going through a difficult time academically due to some health concerns," he said.

Many of his issues were alleviated when he became one of the two first recipients of a scholarship funded by the Faustino and Mercedes Grana ("Lalo" and "Lala") First Generation Scholarship Endowment. The scholarship supports students, like Vazquez, who are the first in their families to attend college. The Grana scholarship is part of FIU's unique Fostering Panther Pride initiative. The program, started in 2014, offers tailored academic and support services to former foster youth and students experiencing homelessness.

The scholarship has helped me secure my education this academic year.

Ricardo Vazquez, Scholarship Recipient

For Vazquez, the scholarship was a lifeline.

"The money helps me in paying tuition and for housing," he said. "The scholarship has helped me secure my education this academic year."

The endowment, established with a gift made in December 2020, was spearheaded by FIU Business alumnus Jose Díaz (BBA '86) to honor the grandparents who made his family's success possible. He and his eight first cousins created the endowment, a bequest that funds students in financial need. Díaz, the owner and founder of Compass Office Solutions LLC, attributes his start in business to the FIU professors who saw his potential and acted as mentors, steering him toward an internship with a furniture company that kick-started his career. He served for eight years on the FIU Alumni Association Board of Directors and currently serves on the FIU Business Alumni Board and the FIU President's Council.

Faustino and Mercedes Grana in the 1960s
Faustino and Mercedes Grana in the 1960s

"Our grandfather taught us to live a life of service and sacrifice, and thanks to his example, many of us are following the life he taught us," he said. In 1959, Faustino and Mercedes Grana left their comfortable home in Tarara, Cuba, a beach town near Havana, and escaped to the United States with their two young children.

"It was emotionally and economically disastrous for Cubans who left during that time," said Díaz. Soon, Faustino Grana and his son-in-law Lazaro Díaz, who hailed from the same town, found jobs unloading railcars full of fruits and vegetables in Miami's Allapattah wholesale produce market. The Grana and Díaz families eventually established a successful egg-and-food distribution company. Faustino and Mercedes nurtured and guided their children, and later grandchildren, as their transplanted family remained close and supportive. Seven of their nine grandchildren attended FIU, studying everything from business to the arts and education.

The FIU First Generation Scholarship Program was established in 2006 by the Florida Legislature and is supported by a matching grant. It provides financial support to qualified undergraduate FIU students who are the first generation in their families to attain a college degree. This program is the only one of its kind in Florida to match private donations for first-generation scholarships, providing financial assistance for students to attend a state university or Florida college.

For Vazquez, meeting the Grana family at a luncheon event celebrating the gift was eye-opening.

"They are really lovely people," Vazquez said, adding that their generosity is inspiring. He recently learned that he was accepted to FIU's Master of Science in Higher Education Administration program and will begin classes later this year.

"I really want to focus on community building and empower marginalized community members, and help them become leaders, creating space for them. If there is one item I have come to understand is following the leadership of marginalized voices, as well as advocating for them." And he will always remember those who helped him on his way.