Valedictorian Finds the Right Time to Follow Her Dreams

Maria dropped out of high school to focus on being a mother but eventually returned to school at UEI Mesa and graduated as the Valedictorian

Thirteen years ago, then 16-year-old Maria Lopez quit high school to focus on being a mother. It was a role she enjoyed for years but when a TikTok video in January of 2022 encouraged her to get her education, she listened.

“I always say God has perfect timing for everything,” she said. “I thought there was a reason why I saw this ad today. I’m just going to call and schedule an appointment and see what happens.”

As soon as Maria saw the Mesa campus of UEI College, she had a feeling it was right for her. She decided to enroll in the Medical Assistant program. Now a mother of four boys, she had a lot on her plate, but the promise of a high school diploma and a new career was too good to pass up.

“I wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited to start,” she said. “On the first day, I knew it was a perfect fit for me. I hadn’t done any of this before, but it was weird because I felt like I had done it before. I was confident doing injections, venipuncture and drawing blood.”

Even though the assignments kept her up late and getting to class was not always easy, Maria fell in love with the courses. Her positivity was infectious.

“She was an amazing student to have in class, with a bubbly personality that shined bright,” said Surprise Spikes, Maria’s instructor. “One of her favorite things to say was ‘do not let things get you, like butter, lather yourself up and let things just slide off of you, do not take things personally.’ She loved her butter phrase and projected this positivity to her classmates. She was definitely a team player and works well with everyone.”

“I think the secret for me is you have to love what you do in order to be good at it,” Maria said. “If you don’t love what you do, you’re not going to enjoy doing it.”

As graduation approached, Maria set a goal to be eligible for every honor chord given out at graduation. Honor chords were given for attendance, grades, getting a high school diploma, and being hired in your field. Maria was able to qualify for every chord and was also named the class valedictorian.

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“It was like a dream come true,” she said. “It was pretty exciting. I was able to do my speech and dedicate it to my parents, my husband, my kids. It was more emotional because I was able to finally look at my parents and tell them all the expectations they had for me in the past, I accomplished them now. I was the first in my family to graduate high school and college.”

“As an instructor, I couldn’t be prouder,” Ms. Spikes said. “From my own personal experience, I know where you come from makes you who you are, but it does not define whom you may become. I instilled this into all my students as well as letting them know based on their stories pressure makes diamonds, so shine bright like one. Seeing my students come full circle and accomplish their goals and dreams is more rewarding than any materialistic item.”

Maria plans to work as a medical assistant for some time before going back to school to pursue nursing. Her advice to other students is to listen to their hearts and trust in the right timing.

“I became a teenage mom when I was 16. I put my dreams on hold for 13 years because I focused more on my family and waiting for my kids to be a little older,” she said. “And now I think it was just perfect timing for a new start. I think having support from my husband is what helped me accomplish all those goals. If your heart tells you it is time, it is time. Don’t put it on hold.”

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