by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce
(KPIX 5) — Commencement – a day of triumph, family, and a promise kept. For Brenda Valadez, Students Rising Above Class of 2013, this was her father’s dream.
“I promised him 10 years ago I would walk the stage and become a successful person,” she said.
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The journey to this day began a decade ago. Brenda came to live with her grandparents in the Bay Area to escape relentless bullying. Her father, a single parent, stayed behind in their small hometown in Mexico.
The recent University of California, Santa Cruz graduate shared her father’s words, “I want to give you the whole world, but I can’t give it to you here.”
“I was the only person he had in his life and for him to say it’s better for you to go away,” recalled Brenda. “I owe him my life for it.”
Brenda dedicated her life to education, made high school honor roll, and was determined to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
However, once at the university, she almost quit. “It was very hard for me,” she said. “I think I was homesick and I just thought I didn’t belong there.”
The separation was hard enough. It was soon followed by an unspeakable tragedy.
Not long after she left him behind in Mexico, Brenda’s father was kidnapped. The kidnappers demanded two million pesos as ransom, an impossibility for her family.
“He tried to escape,” she tearfully recalled. “We found out that they broke his legs so he wasn’t able to escape. Next thing you know they took his life away, they wrapped him in a blanket and threw him by the side of the road.”
Brenda might have fallen into an abyss with her grief and homesickness. But with the encouragement from a Students Rising Above mentor, Brenda stayed at school. She joined clubs, got a job, and even studied abroad. In the back of her mind was that promise she made to her father.
Fast forward to her commencement, one speaker told the grads, “Now graduates, you can breathe. Appreciate your memories here at UC Santa Cruz.”
Brenda had even more memories to appreciate on her Graduation Day. The day also happened to fall on Father’s Day.
Perhaps it was no coincidence. “My whole four years, everything was because he always guided me,” she said. “He was my angel and he was there every step of the way.”
Today, life after graduation is looking up. After a tough interview process, Brenda landed a fulltime job at a prestigious consulting firm. She says she appreciates the opportunity to learn, to fulfill her eternal promise to her father, and to continue to prove right the wisdom of his fateful decision years ago.