Sandra Murrillo’s goal was always to graduate from college, but she probably never imagined that when she reached that milestone, she’d be doing it at the same time as her daughter. This month, the two women graduated from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.
In 1996, after divorcing her husband, she immigrated to the United States from Colombia. Because of an ongoing custody battle, she had to leave Katherinn Lopez-Murillo, then 2, behind.
When Sandra arrived in the US, she didn’t know English, and she worked several jobs as she worked to become bilingual. She finished a training program that allowed her to work as a medical assistant. It took about a decade for Sandra to be reunited with Katherinn. “That was a very difficult time, but I always pray to God to give me the strength and I am always very positive about the future and I always knew that one day I was going to bring my daughter here with me,” Sandra said, according to NBC News.
As her daughter made her way through school, Sandra worked full-time and attended a local community college, where she earned her associate’s degree. In 2016, she enrolled at William Paterson.
For Katherinn, higher education didn’t always seem like a possibility. After high school, she began working as a cosmetologist, but eventually she wanted to switch careers. Seeing her mother get an associate’s degree inspired her to attend college.
Everything lined up so that the two of them could graduate college at the same time. Throughout this journey, they had each other to rely on.
“We need to study or we’ll never get ahead in life. We women especially, we have to be empowered,” Sandra said. “I thank God every day for giving me the strength, and for giving me this wonderful daughter who was there with me through the hard times, and for making this more special because she’s graduating with me.”