“It’s never too late!”
“She believed she could, so she did.”
These statements are examples of what two of the more than 1,500 students declared on their decked-out graduation caps at the Mother’s Day 47th Annual Valencia College Commencement at the University of Central Florida CFE Arena on Sunday, May 8, 2016.
This year, due to the growing number of students, two ceremonies were held for the class of 2016, one in the morning that honored 740 associate degree graduates and another in the afternoon, with 772 associate and bachelor’s degree graduates. In 2015 – 2016, Valencia awarded approximately 7,400 associate and bachelor’s degrees.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, Sandy Shugart, president, Valencia College, started the ceremony by inviting all graduates to take a moment to celebrate moms by giving them a standing ovation. Then, in the same fashion, it was time to celebrate the numerous graduates who are moms, juggling earning a degree with raising a family.
And as fate would have it, this year’s 2016 Alumni Association’s Mary Smedley Collier Distinguished Graduate — Emmy Torres — is a mom. This award, named after the College’s first-ever Distinguished Graduate, is presented to one graduating student each year who has established a superior history of academic excellence, extracurricular involvement and community service while at Valencia.
Emmy shared her inspiring personal story about her life’s journey.
“Twenty years ago at the young age of 17, I became a mom,” she began. “With the support of my family, I was ready to embrace being a mom at such a young age. I had this adorable green-eyed baby boy in my arms who depended solely on me to live, and I promised to him I would do everything in my reach to make sure I gave him the best I could. Over time, it didn’t get any easier. I had to make sacrifices.”
One of those sacrifices was dropping out of high school, just two months before graduation to work a full-time job. “It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, and I have lived with it for 20 years,” she admitted.
Over the years, she tried to go back to school, but the timing just did not work out. Then three and a half years ago, when her son was a senior in high school, she told him her secret that she was a high school dropout. “That was the moment that he gave me a proposition I couldn’t turn down; he said, ‘Mom, get your GED and go to college with me. We can do it,’ and that’s when I realized that life was telling me it was time.”
She enrolled in adult school and worked long hours to get her GED, finishing her six-month course in only three months. Then she passed her test and nothing was stopping her. She immediately went to the Osceola Campus to register for college.
“Little did I know, I was getting myself ready to create so many great memories. I remember that on that Mother’s Day, like today, my son came home with an amazing present for me. He could not imagine how much that moment meant for me. He bought ME my first book bag for college,” Emmy exclaimed. “That was a moment to reflect on for me. This is MY job. I am the one who goes and prepares my kids for school, with school supplies and their backpacks and lunchboxes. And this time, the roles were reversed.”
She continued to explain the memories made during her Valencia journey that she values. For example, during the first week of school, she heard someone on campus yell, “Mom!” and she turned and saw her son running toward her. “I was a bit embarrassed, I will admit. But he wasn’t ashamed to call me mom.”
As Emmy ended her speech, she thanked all the special people in her life who supported her on her journey, especially her son, Francisco Torres, who stood up in the audience, raised a large bouquet of flowers and yelled across the arena for all to hear:
“I love you, mom!”
She concluded with a message to her son, “For the past 20 years, I felt ashamed for that decision of dropping out. But you turned me into a living testimony. You showed me it was never too late to go after my dream. There were many times I felt weak and drained, and you taught me never to give up. I want to dedicate this plaque and my degree to him, because I can proudly say I am no longer ashamed of my choices of the past. Because of him, today I am a college graduate. We did it!”
After her speech came the time each student was eagerly waiting for — the conferring of degrees. “You may now move your tassels from the right to the left, said President Shugart. “Congratulations!”
For social media coverage of commencement, visit the #ValenciaGrad tagboard. To review the recorded ceremonies, starting on Monday, May 16, 2016, visit the valenciacollege.edu home page. To view 2016 grad cap photos, click here.
Watch a time laspe of the 47th annual commencement ceremony below.
Congratulations are also in order for our 78 Valencia nursing students, 63 traditional and 15 advanced standing, who on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, were commended in a nurse pinning at Olympia High School. To view photos from this ceremony, click here.