Winter 2022

Valeria Tapia Works to Become her Family's First College Graduate

Magellan Circle Scholar

University of Arizona junior Valeria Tapia was first inspired by a class in music technology she took in high school. Soon she was parlaying what she learned in class into karaoke parties with her family. “My dad was obsessed with singing,” Tapia says. “We loved to just watch karaoke videos and sing all night. At some point, we were like, how about we buy a small mixer — you know, a very tiny box mixer? So we did, and we gradually bought equipment to improve our sound and the quality of the karaoke.”

Tapia supplemented what she learned in her high school class with internet resources, trying to learn as much as she could. By the time her family bought a professional tower speaker, she had networked with local DJs and created her own karaoke and DJ service.  

When hard times hit, Tapia’s family experienced a period of sudden homelessness. She and her father made ends meet by working karaoke gigs, including at local bars where her father had to be present as the manager because Tapia was underage.

Last summer, Tapia says, her family of four lived out of two cars and a rented storage unit. “We used one car, mostly for the karaoke systems — and the other car was for living, where we had our pillows and all that stuff.”

“But I never let an opportunity slip by,” she says. “I had a contract with several of the bars and I didn’t want to let them down, so I would play every Saturday.”  

Now, Tapia is pursuing a major in information science and arts with a minor in music to prepare for her dream career as a sound engineer. She credits First Cats — a community for first-generation college students — with helping her develop her skills and clarify her academic interests. Support from a Magellan Circle Scholarship, a prestigious, merit-based award offered by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, is helping pave the way.

And Tapia’s family now has a safe and stable home in Nogales. While she feels the stress and challenge of studying remotely, she is grateful to the university library system for providing her with a reliable WiFi hotspot, which makes a tremendous difference in her ability to work, both for her courses and her employer. She also credits her on-campus employer, the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, for supporting her through her family’s period of housing instability.  

Tapia is grateful to her family, above all, for sticking together through such a difficult time. She hopes her story will inspire others to stay positive through adversity. Regarding her own future, Tapia is clear: “I really want to be the first in my family to graduate from college. I don’t want to give up. I know I can do this.”