Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement
Maria Ramirez feels like she’s lived her life in reverse. Married at 15, mother at 16, putting two daughters through ASU in her 30s, and today, finally graduating college herself at 47.
She credits her two daughters, Elizabeth and Staphany, whose childhood photos fill her living room, with her success at Arizona State University. From learning Google Drive and Blackboard to buying her books and school supplies — plus offering the occasional shoulder to cry on — they have supported her financially, academically and emotionally.
“She took me to school, she took a picture when I was getting into the classroom!” Maria said with a laugh, speaking of her daughter Staphany.
Staphany scrolls to an image on her phone of her mother on her first day at West campus dressed in her favorite color, backpack included, pink.
Their family journey at ASU began with the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program which focuses on educating future Sun Devils, and their parents, on what life as a first-generation college student is like.
“When they started the HMDP 12 years ago and I remember all the workshops were so inspirational because they were teaching Hispanic girls that you can be successful, but they were kind of educating the parents too,” said Ramirez.
Today all three sit together at the dining room table and laugh about their shared college experiences and their mother’s future. After more than a decade working as a teacher's aid and substitute teacher they look forward to their mother’s future classroom.
Ramirez will earn her degree in elementary education from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College on May 7.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I began working with kids and enjoyed being with them, and teacher friends were giving me advice about what to do to start education with Elizabeth and all the time I wanted to change the lives of people as these teachers were doing with me. I noticed we can motivate students, especially Hispanic students, that yes, it is possible that you can learn English, that you can get your education.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: I had to do so much reading, homework, writing, typing and I spent nights until one, two in the morning trying to learn so much stuff and to live the life of a student. I never imagined how hard it was to be a student until I lived it. … Something that I learned at ASU is that you’re accountable for your grades, it’s something very serious, getting your education. You have to have good communication with your teachers and your professors. It’s hard to be a student but it’s not impossible.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I wanted to be a proud Sun Devil like (my daughters). I wanted the gown, the hat and I wanted to be like them.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Never give up. No matter what never give up. All the time there are going to be good and bad experiences but they need to take it like a learning experience and it's going to make you stronger. Si se pudo!
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I dreamed so much to go to university that every single space was special. … When I started going to ASU West, (Staphany) was taking classes and all of us were in the library studying.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan on applying for Peoria district. I liked the school where I did my internship, it’s multicultural. I feel at home in that district.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: #RedforEd. Education. I would like to change the world and give especially to education.
Top photo and video: Mary Lou Fulton graduate Maria Ramirez poses with her Sun Devil daughters Elizabeth, left, and Staphany, right, on April 28, 2018. Photo and video by Deanna Dent/ASUNow