Brenda Acuna is someone who always dreamed of having a career and a college degree, but somehow life just always got in the way.
She grew up with loving parents, but they struggled to help her with her schoolwork. As her classes became more difficult in high school and her grades became worse, she dropped out. She became a single mother to her son at a young age and decided to focus her efforts on caring for him instead of completing school.
Six years later, Brenda had three more children. She had married, but her marriage was ending, and she was once again left as a single mother. With the help of her parents, she was able to keep them all afloat.
In 2019, Brenda moved to Arizona and eventually met her new husband. He encouraged her to go for her high school diploma one more time, but again, she didn’t pass the test.
In 2021, tragedy struck. Brenda’s ex-husband, the father of her children, died in a tractor-trailer accident. While still helping her children through their grief, Brenda lost her job just a few months later.
“I was frustrated. My husband encouraged me to look for other resources. That’s when UEI popped up.”
“It caught my eye,” she said. “I felt like there was so much opportunity for growth within and different specialties. My interest started growing and growing and I just stuck through it.”
“She was determined,” said Mylisa Brown, Brenda’s instructor. “She never missed a day. She just absorbed everything. Once she learned something, she was one of the first ones to help someone who was not picking it up as quickly.”
Brenda talked to her parents almost daily. As she neared the end of her program, she made plans to bring them to Arizona for her graduation.
“My parents were very excited to see me,” she said. “They never got to see me in a cap and gown or anything. My mom would always brag to the family about what I was doing. She was very excited. They were ready to come in April.”
As Brenda was finishing up her externship, tragedy struck again. She got a call in February that her parents had been involved in a car accident in Mexico. They did not survive. She needed to leave right away to be with her family and make arrangements.
“It was horrible,” Brenda said. “My mom was my best friend. She would call me like six times a day. Receiving that news was horrible. It was unbelievable, even to this day.”
“She called me and it was really heartbreaking,” Ms. Brown said. “She was dealing with that, but also afraid of being dropped because she had to leave. I told her she could get a leave of absence from the program, but she didn’t want to do that. She wanted to graduate to make her parents proud. You’re with these students for seven months and you form this bond with them. They are not just students. They are like my kids. It was hard to see her sad, but it always made me proud that she didn’t give up. I never heard her say, ‘I can’t do this.’ ”
Brenda came back to her externship several weeks later and finished strong.
“My kids were really inspirational,” she said. “My daughter would talk to me and say, ‘Mom, we did it. We went through it. We lost our daddy. You can do it too.’ I pushed myself and I came back and finished my hours and got hired on.”
During UEI Phoenix’s April graduation, Brenda was recognized for her perseverance.
“I was so proud,” said Ms. Brown. “Trying to share her story at graduation, I was trying very hard not to cry, not just because I knew what she had been through, but because I was so proud that she did it. She has always been determined and had a big heart. To see her accomplish this just made me so proud.”