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The Family that Studies Together: Mother and Son Graduate the Same Day

by Janelle Hill Nov 26, 2019

Vilma Almanza ’19 is living proof that anything is possible. Just ask her kids. 

“She’s ambitious, courageous, determined. If she wants something, she will strive for it,” says Almanza’s daughter, Emily. 

The Brooklyn native turned Lehigh Valley transplant had a humble upbringing, raised by hardworking parents who immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua. She had always wanted to go to college, but those plans took a detour once she became a mother.

“I started my family when I was very young and that took precedence over everything,” Almanza says.

Her family had settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but the slower pace and open space of the Lehigh Valley appealed to them, and they eventually relocated.

Almanza enrolled in classes at DeSales soon after but with work and family commitments, she was forced to put her education on the back burner once again. In 2016, with her youngest in high school, the time was finally right to pursue her degree. She toured all of the colleges and universities in the Lehigh Valley, but deep down she knew DeSales was the right fit.  

“I love what DeSales stands for and the small, Catholic environment. I knew I would end up here.”

What she didn’t know was that she would soon end up working on campus. A month after enrolling in classes, she applied and accepted a position as secretary for the financial aid department. She views her main responsibility as meeting the needs of both parents and students.

“We’re dealing with two of the most important things in a parent’s life: children and finances. I like to treat them the way I would expect my child or myself to be treated. It sets the tone for what the University stands for.”

Almanza continued taking classes for the next three years, chipping away at a bachelor’s degree in business administration. During that time, her son, Andrew, enrolled in DeSales’ MBA program while Emily was in high school—making all three students at the same time.

“It was quite interesting,” Almanza says with a laugh. “All we could see in the house were textbooks and laptops. Our conversations for the past three years have been nothing but school, which makes everything relatable.”

In May, Almanza’s drive and determination finally paid off. With her family in the crowd cheering her on, she crossed the stage on graduation day to receive her diploma. Making the moment even more special—Andrew crossed that same stage just minutes earlier to receive his MBA and was waiting for his mother with open arms. 

“I really can’t find the words to describe the amount of pride that I have to know that I was there with her and she was there with me,” he says. “It just showed me that no matter how long it takes, anything that you want is possible.”

Perhaps the proudest of them all was Almanza’s mother, who came to the U.S. at the age of 21 to give her family a better life. For years, she had encouraged her daughter to enroll in classes—something she herself was never able to do.

“Walking across that stage meant more to her because it was her eldest being able to accomplish what she had always hoped would happen one day,” Almanza says. 

In August, the family began yet another chapter at DeSales when Emily started her freshman year as a nursing student. But their DeSales story might not end there. Almanza is considering a return to the classroom—this time, as an MBA student.

“I’m a firm believer that things just don’t happen, they’re meant to happen,” she says. “When I was able to get the job here, everything fell into place. Every day I drive in, my heart skips a beat. It’s an overwhelming sense of gratitude and of feeling blessed.”