The path to a Master of Business Administration has not been an easy one for Valentina Daniela Cercado Leiva, a 2022 City University of Seattle graduate. She’s faced cultural barriers, language challenges, and a personal crisis that almost ended her MBA dream. But her story’s happy ending not only had meaning for her – as CityU’s student speaker, she was able to share her inspirational message with other students and their families, as well.

She has earned the right to celebrate her accomplishments, says Kathy Cox, CityU associate vice president of Strategic Partnerships; a lot of demanding work and effort went into them. Taking time to celebrate is an important part of the process. Graduates often frame their diploma, announce their milestone on social media, and have a party with friends and family. For Cercado Leiva, that celebration included a dinner out in Seattle with her family and some professors and fellow students at CityU. It was a celebration of success, and of overcoming challenges.

Those challenges began in Peru, where Cercado Leiva was born. There, a cultural society existed that thought men were superior to women and women should take care of the home. Thankfully, Cercado Leiva’s mother’s beliefs contradicted that cliché.

“As a child, I received this message from my mother, ‘Education is a fundamental human right; it is accessible and opens the door to new opportunities,’” Cercado Leiva says. Whenever she grew weary of studying, her mother, Rosa Leiva, took over and read to her what she needed to study.

Cercado Leiva came to the United States from Peru three years ago. In Spain and Peru, she worked as an environmental lawyer. Her passions include preventing and controlling industrial pollution, environmental responsibility and developing successful sustainable projects worldwide. In the United States, she wanted to earn an MBA so she could influence the international world.

Once in the U.S., Cercado Leiva met with a new challenge; the difficulty of attending classes taught in English (not her first language) and also working in an English-speaking environment. Jane Cater, an instructor at CityU, says, “Although Cercado was highly disciplined at studying, like all second language learners, she had to learn how to study in a different way.”

Cater explains that it’s not just about syntax and vocabulary. Learning in another language includes muscular, behavioral and mental change, making it more like mastering an intricate sport, ballet or a musical instrument.

Still, Cercado Leiva persevered, worked on her language skills and made progress. Despite the challenges, Cercado Leiva kept her grades up and maintained a cheerful outlook.

While studying for her MBA, she held two different jobs. Her employment included working at CityU’s Office of the Registrar and being a project leader for CityU’s Enactus team, which entailed leading a project with a team of 22 students from different cultural and educational backgrounds. According to CityU’s website, “Enactus trains and empowers students to create sustainable strategies and become entrepreneurs and business professionals who have a positive impact on the world.”

Cercado Leiva’s team accomplished that with a mask project for the homeless that garnered them the National Enactus Excellence in COVID-19 Response award in 2020. This year the team won the champion award for the Early-Stage level of the Enactus US 2022 National Exposition.

Kathy Cox, the faculty adviser for Enactus, met with Cercado Leiva often and says, “She is such a positive, passionate person and has improved her English greatly, which has boosted her confidence.”

Maintaining that positive outlook, and sense of self-confidence, wasn’t easy when Cercado Leiva was far from the support of her family, an issue for that’s common among international students. But her educational goals kept her going.


Then last year she suffered a devastating personal event.

“I was in bed for weeks and wanted to give up,” Cercado Leiva says. “My adviser, Sima Janka, told me I had the option to give up or move on. I was close to finishing my degree.”

Cercado Leiva weighed her adviser’s advice and chose to continue.

“Today I am stronger and persevering in fulfilling my dreams,” she says.

Cercado Leiva was chosen as the student speaker for the CityU’s 2022 graduating class because of her high grades, her life experience, her leadership in Enactus, her huge enthusiasm for the school and her gratitude to everyone there.

“In true Valentina form, she tackled the accent problem with dogged determination and every word she spoke as valedictorian was understood,” says Cater.

Students often find it easier to concentrate on what they didn’t do well or to think that the road to their goals is exceptionally long, says Cater. It’s good to recognize that one has made some headway and celebrate that success.

Cater sums up every student’s journey, “Education is as much about community and expansion of the self as it is about gaining knowledge and expertise.”

City University of Seattle is accredited through the doctoral level. Find programs in business, leadership, education, health and human services, computer and information systems. CityU is ranked as a 2022 Best Online Bachelor program by US News & World Report.