When California State University, Los Angeles’s Class of 2017 graduated, 70-year-old Berenice Onofre Vásquez was one of its most accomplished members. The Peruvian woman – who arrived in the United States at 21 – received her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership last week, according to NBC News. Though she had already earned a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing, and a Master of Public Administration from Cal State LA, Berenice wanted to continue pursuing higher education so that she could become a professor. “If I have a doctorate, my words would have more weight,” she told NBC News. “I would have more respect and I can do more.”
School has always played an important role in Onofre Vásquez’s life. Growing up in Caiqui, she attended a school in Central Peru until the third grade – the highest level offered. But her parents wanted her to continue with her studies, so they moved to Ambo. Later, she attended high school in Lima and lived away from her family, only visiting them on the weekends.
In her youth, she even opened a school in Santa Isabel, where she served as principal for two years. Berenice also attended the Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal in Lima before she moved to the United States. Arriving in a new country where she didn’t speak the language came with difficulties. Her limited English language skills landed her in an introductory-level math courses that didn’t challenge her. One of her classmates told her about Cal State LA’s nursing program and since then, Onofre Vásquez has proudly been a Golden Eagle.
Onofre Vásquez’s journey to higher education hasn’t come easily. For 38 years, the single mother worked as a nurse. Sometimes she juggled two jobs as she continued her studies. But she motivated herself by acknowledging her experience and knowledge. During her latest stint, her dissertation focused on Spanish-speaking parents and immigrants who have to learn English. “Us immigrants, we come with the desire to do something better,” the abuelita told Cal State LA. “To be somebody, to do something.”
Now that she’s earned her doctorate, she hopes to use her degree to help her community. “I hope that in my life I can contribute toward that, maybe in small ways, maybe in big ways.”