Google “strength” and “inspiration” and the name, Macuilxochitl Palacios, should come up first. Because when she sets a goal for herself, those qualities reign and absolutely nothing stops her from reaching that goal.

In 2019 she started taking in-person classes at City University of Seattle so she could complete her master’s degree in Education Curriculum and Instruction and receive an English Language Learner and elementary school endorsement. Besides attending college full time, she was also raising her two children and working as a student teacher.

She suffered a stroke in June of that year.

“I think it was stress related,” Palacios says. “With everything I was doing, I barely had time to sleep.”

Her colleagues from the school where she was teaching and those from CityU and staff there all stepped up to help her out. Her instructors gave her extra time to finish her schoolwork and she didn’t miss a beat. She also recovered from the stroke in half the time the doctors predicted she would.

In August, Palacios walked in the first CityU in-person commencement since the pandemic began. She was also chosen as the student speaker at the event for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

“Because of COVID-19 we were nervous leading up to the day of the event, but the staff at T-Mobile Park did an amazing job of cleaning and preparing the stadium,” says CityU President and Interim President of National University Randy Frisch.

There’s something remarkable about commencement, he says. It marks the completion of a step on an individual’s educational journey. Walking across that stage makes that accomplishment real.

Students encounter their share of hurdles

Palacios had more than her share of obstacles put in her path besides her stroke, Bell’s palsy and the pandemic. She grew up the youngest of eight children in Oceanside, California, where she says reaching for higher education was not a common goal. She was the first of her family to obtain a BA and then a master’s degree.

“Students face so many challenges while trying to complete a degree. They range from managing full-time work to balancing family life, overcoming medical issues, or managing to finance an education,” says Dr. Scott Carnz, provost at CityU. “Most come from a variety of academic backgrounds and experiences that may or may not have fully prepared them for the rigors of the contemporary classroom.”

Frisch says most of us struggle because of the limits we place on ourselves. Palacios refused to do that, he notes.

Dr. Scott Carnz

Overcoming obstacles leads to rewards

Palacios is a great role model for all of us to do our best and not listen to those who tell us we can’t, Frisch says.

“I never imagined I would be standing here, but dreams come true, with persistence and dedication,” Palacios said in her opening remarks as the student speaker at her graduation.

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She made something of herself and she’s proud of it. Recently some of her students from Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, in Marysville, where Palacios now teaches second grade, said they wanted to be her when they grew up. Her own son, a third-grader, told her, “No matter what is thrown at you in life, you can make it.”

Completing a master’s degree can be one of the most rewarding achievements in a person’s life says Carnz. Many students find that it enriches their lives in a variety of ways including broadening their world perspective, developing a greater sense of self and establishing a strong cohort of professional colleagues.

That certainly held true for Palacios. In her commencement address she said, “Not only did I earn a master’s degree, but I met many people and built meaningful friendships that I now consider family.”

Her options for employment have increased substantially and she’s now qualified for greater responsibility, says Frisch. She also has the ability to help more people and nobody can take that away from her.

Paying it forward

As she moves ahead in her teaching career, Palacios plans to continue believing in her own students, just as the staff at CityU believed in her.

“When you leave here today, celebrate what you have accomplished, but whatever you do keep inspiring our future leaders,” were Palacios’ next to last words in her speech.

Dreaming big isn’t always easy but is always worthwhile.

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for eight consecutive years.