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All in the family – ASU mom, two daughters share valuable life experience at graduation

May 07, 2007
(Editor’s note:  The following story was first reported by Marni Casassa in the May 2 edition of ASU’s West campus weekly newspaper West Express.  Our thanks to Casassa and these West Express associates: Editor-in-Chief Eric P. Johnson, Photo Editor Jed Strahm, and Faculty Advisor James Garcia.)

On May 11, 50 proud family members will be on hand to celebrate the graduations of Irene Lopez, her daughter Shannon Lopez-Ronquillo, and daughter-in-law Laura Lopez.   Each will be graduating from Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership.

The first in their family to earn college degrees, Irene and Shannon majored in early education, while Laura aspires to teach high school math.

From the cozy living room of their Glendale home, vibrant with family photographs and memorabilia, Irene shared their story.

“I raised four kids while my husband provided for us,” she said. “When they got old enough I wanted a job that would allow me to be home when school let out. So I worked in the school system as a bilingual aide. There is always a shortage of bilingual teachers, and a recruiter offered me an opportunity to attend GCC with my tuition paid for.  I only had to buy my books.  My daughter Shannon was recruited into the same program in 2001.”

Shortly after Irene and Shannon began the program, tragedy struck their family, almost leading Irene to quit school.

“A couple of months before school was to start, I lost my son (Laura’s husband) and my first reaction was to forget about school,” she explained. “But the Lord had a hand in it, and I thought I have to keep busy.  My daughter-in-law Laura, widowed by the accident, started in the same program one semester later but she caught up to us.”

Irene said having her family with her throughout the entire time made the process easier.

“My advice to other returning students is find yourself a partner,” she said. “We had teamwork, we were there for each other, we collaborated and it was a big help.” 

Proud husband and father Richard Lopez supported their scholastic efforts by editing school papers and is now thinking of going back to school himself.

Like most endeavors, there were educational mountains to climb, Irene explained.

“We were at Glendale Community College for four years.  Then we transferred to the West campus, and the first semester as full time students was a shock. My technology class was the most challenging. It was all new to me.”

Shannon’s most difficult class was the assessment class. With those obstacles now behind them, for the past sixteen weeks Irene and Shannon have been student teaching at Coyote Ridge Elementary School.

Laura bore the double burden of being a single mom while going to school.  To reach her goal of teaching high school math, she had to minor in math and conquer advanced classes like calculus.  Since January 16, she has been student teaching at Glendale High School.

Laura, Shannon, and Irene are already looking forward to post-graduation life. As a reward to herself, Laura is planning for a new car, a new house, and a vacation, “as soon as I catch my breath and unwind.” Shannon is planning to add a new baby to the family and take a year off to care for the newborn, and Irene is planning a first-time visit to New York City.

The women agree that their strong religious faith is an invaluable resource.

“What gave me perseverance was believing that God never gives you more than you can handle,” Laura said. “One of my inspirations is the Bible verse ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”

Shannon agreed: “Always put your faith in God and trust Him in the journey and everything will turn out right”.

Irene:  “I want to tell people that you’re never too old to do anything. It never crossed my mind that I would be a lot younger than the other students. I had to go to encourage Shannon. In my culture it’s unusual for a woman to do what I have done, and I want to inspire other Hispanic women.  First I motivated my kids, and now my granddaughter and my husband want to go to college. 

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”