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Celebrating U Completely: Students share their journey to graduation

For every student who enrolls as an undergraduate or in graduate school, their ultimate goal is to complete their studies and earn a degree. That journey can include ups and downs along the way that will hopefully make them stronger and more resilient than when they started. For Xochitl Juarez and Guillermo Cuevas, the common thread they share is the satisfaction of successfully accomplishing their educational mission. 

Xochitl Juarez, Bachelor of Science in Ethnic Studies & Bachelor of Social Work

As you consider your journey, what were your thoughts when you began and how did things turn out? Also, what challenges, if any, did you face?

 When I first started in 2019, I had started out part-time taking online classes. I was working 40 hours a week managing 12 cases working as a foster care coordinator. As a mother of two boys, I never wanted to be an absent parent, therefore, I wanted to take things slow with my return to the U and see how much I could take on.

School picked up fast the following year and I had to make the difficult decision to leave the job that pushed me to grow and had grown to love so much. It was a hard decision because I had this thought that perhaps I would never be as successful. However, I chose to take this leap of faith in myself and focus solely on my studies. I had to miss many of my sons’ school events and was asked many times “Mom, how come you didn’t pick us up today?” or “Will you be at my game today?” Many times, I cried on my way to campus and questioned whether I was a good mom and felt like quitting more times than I can count.

Thanks to the mentorships I built on campus, I pushed through every single time and my children reminded me that I was indeed NOT a bad mother. They were the strength that kept me going and now I will be the first in my family to enter my master’s program and feel extremely proud of everything I’ve accomplished thus far.

What part, if any, did the resources and people in Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI) contribute to your eventual success?

The Dream Center was a huge part of my success, and I could not imagine doing this without their immense support. All the scholarships I received from that first week of school helped me feel that someone here at the University of Utah did want to see me succeed and followed through with helping me cross the finish line. I now have a few spaces here at the U where I know I can always come back and seek support or have a nice chat over a cup of coffee.

Now that you are achieving your goal of graduation, are there any thoughts of reflection you would like to share?

I would say that no matter what circumstances happen in one’s life, there are rarely ever things that are impossible. We all have our own timelines, so don’t pay attention to societal timelines because we all live different realities. If we believe in ourselves first, the world will follow. Don’t be afraid to dream big and allow your potential to shine through.


Guillermo Cuevas, Master of Science in Finance (MSF)

What were your thoughts when you began and how did things turn out?

When I began this journey, I initially did not envision pursuing a master’s degree due to my responsibilities as a full-time employee and a parent preparing to send children to college. However, my supervisor, Dr. José E. Rodríguez, played a pivotal role in inspiring me to reconsider my educational path by engaging in meaningful discussions about my career and future prospects.

His encouragement reignited my ambition to further my education, ultimately leading me to enroll in the Master of Science in Finance program at the university. I am deeply appreciative of Dr. Rodríguez’s mentorship and the initial conversation that set me on this transformative path.

What challenges did you face?

Throughout the pursuit of my master’s degree, I encountered various challenges, including the logistical complexities of balancing work and academic commitments. Despite having a supportive supervisor, the scheduling of some classes during working hours posed a significant obstacle.

Additionally, certain courses presented greater academic demands, with limited after-hours support from teaching assistants. Overcoming these challenges required a concerted effort, bolstered by the unwavering support of my employer and the dedication of my instructors.

Any thoughts of reflection you would like to share?

Reflecting on my educational journey, I firmly believe that education is accessible to individuals at any stage of life. My experience demonstrates that with the right support and mentorship, embarking on an educational pursuit, even in one’s forties, is not only feasible but also immensely rewarding.

I am grateful for the invaluable mentorship and resources provided by my current workplace and the University of Utah, which have enabled me to realize my aspiration of obtaining a Master of Science in Finance. My journey stands as a testament to the adage that it is never too late to pursue one’s educational dreams.