On a day dedicated to celebrating her achievements, she only wanted to talk about those of her parents, who emigrated from Mexico as teenagers.
Elizabeth Lopez, 17, was preparing to graduate from Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen. She had friends to hug, sashes to straighten, selfies to take. But what she really wanted was a few more precious moments with her parents.
She and her mother, Hortencia Lopez, took turns wiping tears from each other's cheeks. Both smiled. The daughter apologized for crying.
"I wouldn't be here without my parents," she said. "I've always been proud of them."
Her father, Eloy Lopez, beamed. She is his youngest, "mija," the daughter with two older brothers. For his children, he worked to create better possibilities. He wanted them to get a good education – he and his wife's schooling ended at elementary school.
Elizabeth Lopez's parents grew up together in Mexico. They began dating when they arrived in Chicago (he in 1975, she in '76) and built a life that included balancing many jobs and eventually three children.
When her mother arrived (illegally), she would walk everywhere with a backpack, having heard schoolgirls were in less danger of being bothered by immigration officials. It's a detail that's always stood out to her daughter.
"That broke my heart," Elizabeth Lopez said, "because we take so many things for granted."
Both of her parents were working on family farms by the time they could walk. So they knew about hard work, about perseverance. In Chicago, as adults, each clocked in at factories and other jobs to make ends meet. Even still, ends didn't always meet. "There were days when they didn't even have food," Elizabeth Lopez said.
Because of everything they went through, she promised them years ago she would prioritize education and work hard for college acceptance and scholarships. And their stories inspired her to help others avoid what they went through – the fear of being sent back to Mexico, even as they achieved legal status. Her father is a citizen, her mother a resident.
It's for this reason that she wants to be an immigration attorney. She's already learned enough about immigration law to organize Know Your Rights workshops at her school.
"I know not everyone is as fortunate as my parents," she said.
She said she is discouraged by a presidential administration pushing to curb immigration and deport immigrants. She wants to help others worried about staying hidden.
"I just don't want them to go through that," she said.
School principal JuanCarlos Ocon described Lopez as a constant presence at school – president of the student council, a part of Juarez Navigators, where she helped lead the immigration rights workshops for students and their families that helped "parents not be as afraid," he said.
Ocon said he could endlessly list her achievements – a full-tuition scholarship to Connecticut College, that she never missed a school meeting, her trip to Washington, D.C., to advocate for Dreamers.
"The truth is that that doesn't capture who Elizabeth is," he said. Beyond the resume, he said, she is a tremendous person.
Minutes before graduates funneled off to form lines for their entrance into the Aon Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Eloy Lopez beamed as he watched his wife and daughter hug.
"I'm so proud," he said. "If she's happy, I'm happy."
He knows that letting "my little one" go is part of parenting. "Life has been so fun," he said. "They have to go, do better."