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College of Social Work

Kevin Gustavo Rivera – Class of 2024

Meet Kevin Rivera, a graduate of the 2023 BSW program and about to receive his MSW degree. His plans include attending law school, specializing in humanitarian law. Kevin serves as a graduate assistant and is highly active in college activities, making him a familiar face around campus. Here's his inspiring story.

Major: Master of Social Work

Hometown: Lancaster, South Carolina

How USC changed my life: The University of South Carolina has been a game-changer in my journey toward adulthood and forging my professional identity. Stepping onto the campus for the first time was a bit overwhelming, especially coming from my smaller university in Lancaster. As a first-generation student, I didn't know what to expect, but what I found here was eye-opening. This university has been like a microcosm of the world, showing me the vast diversity of experiences and challenges people encounter while pursuing their education. It's been a journey of discovery, realizing that there are so many different paths one can take, but the unwavering belief in our goals and the vision of success with each step we take propels us forward. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time here has been the relationships I've formed. From professors who have taken me under their wing to fellow students who have become lifelong friends, each person I've met has shaped who I am today.

sonya and kevin holding up signs

Advice for incoming students: It's normal to feel overwhelmed at first, but I want you to know that you belong here just as much as anyone else. I've learned that it's crucial to stay true to yourself amidst the chaos of university life. Don't let anyone else's expectations define who you are or what you can achieve. And hey, if you stumble along the way – failing a class or facing a setback – don't let that define you either. It's about the effort you put in and the lessons you learn along the journey. Find your tribe – the people who will hold you accountable, cheer you on when you're struggling, and celebrate your victories with you. And don't be afraid to lean on them when you need help. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Coming out of your comfort zone may take time, but it is not a weakness. Now, when you hit those moments when everything feels impossible, remember this: you're not alone. Reach out to admissions, talk to your advisor, and seek out sources of encouragement and guidance. And if one advisor isn't clicking with you, don't hesitate to find another—or even a few more. This is your education, and you deserve to have the support you need to succeed. But amidst all the studying and planning, remember to enjoy the ride. Embrace the present moment but know when to buckle down and get serious. And when the time comes to move on from this chapter of your life, don't be afraid of what's next. New opportunities will always await you as long as you're dedicated to growing and evolving into the best version of yourself. So, my fellow students, as you embark on this journey, remember: you belong here, capable of great things and a bright future. Make every moment count, and never stop striving for greatness.


Embrace the challenges and cherish the victories; the potential within you has greatness you could never imagine and never lose sight of. This is what I would tell everyone.

Kevin Rivera

What’s been the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself during your college experience? Through the ups and downs of my college journey, one lesson stands out above all: resilience. I've discovered that I possess an inner strength that allows me to weather any storm and emerge stronger on the other side. But more than just weathering my challenges, I've found profound joy in lifting others and showing them the incredible potential they hold within themselves. It's become clear to me that encouraging and supporting others is not just something I do – it's who I am. Amidst the chaos of academic life, I've learned the importance of staying true to myself while being open to the experiences and perspectives of those around me. It's a delicate balance, requiring both discernment and empathy. Only some people will be a positive influence, and that's where boundaries come in. Learning to set limits and prioritize my well-being has been crucial in maintaining my authenticity and focus. But college isn't just about academic growth; it's also about self-discovery. I've made my fair share of mistakes, but each has been a valuable lesson in disguise. Through it all, I've remained steadfast in my determination to learn and grow, using every setback to refine my goals and hone my skills. As I look back on my college years, I'm filled with gratitude for the journey I've been on and the person I've become. I've accomplished more than I ever thought possible, and I know the best is yet to come. Embrace the challenges and cherish the victories; the potential within you has greatness you could never imagine and never lose sight of. This is what I would tell everyone. A good dose of self-discovery, resilience, and determination, and I promise there's no limit to what you can achieve.

What played a role in my success: The College of Social Work has been nothing short of transformative for me. It's not just a place where I attend classes; it's a community that has become like a second family to me. From the moment I stepped foot into the college, I felt welcomed and supported by everyone – from fellow students to professors, administrators and our dean. But beyond the academic curriculum, it was my involvement in student government and various advocacy efforts on campus that truly shaped my sense of self and purpose. Through these experiences, I learned the power of using my voice to advocate for what I believe in – diversity, equality and inclusion. The College of Social Work provided me with the platform and the encouragement to be a bold, outspoken leader, unafraid to stand up for what's right. These experiences didn't just enhance my academic journey; they also allowed me to connect with some incredibly meaningful people who share my passion for creating positive change. Together, we've formed a tight-knit community that supports and uplifts each other, both academically and personally. Thanks to the College of Social Work and the University of South Carolina as a whole, I've grown into a confident and resilient individual. I've learned to navigate life's challenges with grace and determination, always staying true to my values and convictions. And as I continue on my journey, I carry with me the lessons and the relationships forged within these hallowed halls, knowing that they will continue to guide and inspire me in all that I do.

A favorite memory: Undergraduate graduation day at the University of South Carolina holds a special place in my heart. It marked a significant milestone not just in my academic journey but also in my family's story. As the youngest in my family, I embarked on a path that none before me had taken—pursuing higher education. Growing up, college was never really a topic of conversation among my cousins or even within my household. When I reached my early 20s, I entertained the idea of attending college myself. And when I finally decided to enroll at USC, it felt like I was stepping into a world of endless possibilities. Receiving my bachelor's degree in social work was a moment of profound accomplishment, not just for me but for my entire family. I could see the pride and excitement in their eyes as they celebrated this milestone with me. It was a testament to the journey we had all undertaken together – overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, and ultimately triumphing in the face of adversity. But that day was about more than just earning a degree. It was about reclaiming a sense of purpose and hope for the future, especially after the loss of a sibling and the personal struggles I had faced along the way. Graduation became a symbol of resilience, a reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And now, as I pursue my Master's degree at Carolina, I carry with me the lessons and the memories of that unforgettable day. It is a constant reminder of the strength and determination that brought me to where I am today and the unwavering support of my family that continues to propel me forward. So, as I walk across the stage once again, I do so not just for myself but for all those who have cheered me on and believed in me every step of the way. It's a moment of celebration, gratitude, and immense pride in how far I've come and how far I'll continue to go.

What’s next:  After completing my Master of Social Work degree in May I will move to Washington, D.C., to pursue law school. This decision feels both exhilarating and purpose-driven, a natural progression in my journey to make a tangible impact on the world. My passion lies in the intersection of social work and law, particularly Humanitarian Law, focusing on International Human Rights. This path is the culmination of all my experiences and aspirations, blending my expertise in social work with the power of the judicial process to effect real change. I envision myself working tirelessly within the legal framework to advocate for marginalized, discriminated against, or exploited rights. Whether it's fighting for justice in cases of human trafficking, advocating for refugee rights, or championing the cause of gender equality, I will use my knowledge and expertise to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. My decision to pursue this path is deeply personal. It stems from a desire to leverage my education, experiences, and privilege to uplift those silenced or overlooked by society. I've seen firsthand the transformative impact that legal advocacy can have on individuals and communities, and I am driven by a fierce determination to be part of that change. As I embark on this new chapter, I am filled with purpose and excitement for the challenges and opportunities I may undertake. I know that the road ahead will be challenging, but I am ready to tackle it head-on, fueled by my passion for social justice and my unwavering belief in the power of compassion and advocacy. Ultimately, my goal is simple yet profound: to be a voice for the voiceless, a champion for the vulnerable, and a catalyst for positive change in a world too often plagued by injustice and inequality. I am confident that I will make a difference with determination, dedication, and a relentless commitment to my values – one case, one person, and one victory at a time.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.