Jennifer Villarreal had always told her four daughters there wasn’t anything they couldn’t accomplish if they put their minds to it. Two years ago, the daughters convinced her to practice what she preached.
“I kept telling them there was no way I could go back to school,” the 47-year-old Villarreal recalled. “I always taught them to never say they can’t do anything. You never know until you try. They turned the tables on me.”
Even though Villarreal had plenty of reasons to postpone her graduation, she walked the stage on May 8 to receive her Associate of Science degree in business management from Victoria College. Villarreal fell ill with the coronavirus during the summer 2020 semester. Then in the fall 2020 semester, she required an emergency surgery.
On Feb. 3, Villarreal’s brother, James Evans Jr., passed away at the age of 52. She was also busy homeschooling her 14-year-old daughter, Geneva, during the pandemic and taking care of her husband of 28 years, Anthony, who suffers from health problems.
“People have asked me why I didn’t drop out this semester, because a death in the family like that is hard to deal with,” Villarreal said. “But he would have wanted me to keep going. He was very proud of the fact that I was in college. He had always wanted to, but just wasn’t able to. So quitting never crossed my mind.”
Villarreal’s husband also encouraged her to persevere.
“He would actually run everybody out of the room and lock the door so I could have the computer and study,” Villarreal said. “He had a couple of doctor’s appointments the other day, and he was more concerned with me getting home to study for finals than he was about his doctor’s appointments.”
Villarreal, who earned membership in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and National Society of Leadership and Success, was committed from her first day at Victoria College to excel academically.
“I never really tried hard in high school,” Villarreal said. “I never studied that much. When I registered for college and saw my transcript from high school, I was a little disappointed to see that I ranked below the 50 percentile in my graduating class. That made me work hard in my college classes.”
Villarreal’s achievement was made even sweeter by walking the stage with her daughter, Michaela Villarreal, who also earned her associate degree this spring.
“She motivated me a lot even before she went back to school,” Michaela said. “I tease her about being an overachiever. But she is just so focused. I’m really proud of her.”
Villarreal will now attend the University of Houston-Victoria, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“God love all the professors here at VC,” Villarreal said. “They were all very good with working with me. I am actually excited and sad to be graduating. I’m sad because I don’t want to leave VC. It’s like my home.”
Villarreal finds it almost unbelievable when reflecting on what she has accomplished the last two years.
“I’m ecstatic,” Villarreal said. “I can’t believe I’ve made it this far with all the things life has thrown at me. But I don’t let anything get me down. I keep going. A lot of it is because of my family. Without them, I would not have gotten here. They have encouraged me from the start. I don’t know who is prouder — myself, my husband or my kids.”