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By Carrie Click.

Rosa Meraz, Daniela Santana earn side-by-side associate degrees at Spring Valley

Rosa Meraz blows a kiss at Colorado Mountain College's associate degree graduation ceremony on May 7 at Spring Valley. Meraz and her 19-year-old daughter, Daniela Santana, graduated together at Spring Valley. Both hope to pursue careers in health care.

Rosa Meraz blows a kiss at CMC’s associate degree graduation ceremony on May 7. Meraz and her 19-year-old daughter, Daniela Santana, graduated together. Photo Ed Kosmicki

When Rosa Meraz arrived in Colorado from Mexico 20 years ago, she couldn’t speak English. Not a word.

“I couldn’t even say ‘hi’ or ‘bye,’” she said, laughing, with just the slightest accent. “I remember wanting to cry. I couldn’t understand anything going on around me.”

That’s a world of difference from Meraz’s life today. On May 7, Meraz, 42, walked to the podium with her 19-year-old daughter Daniela Santana at one of Colorado Mountain College’s four graduation ceremonies at Spring Valley, where both women will receive associate degrees. Mother and daughter are planning to continue their studies – Meraz in nursing, and Santana possibly in obstetrics and midwifery.

‘One class at a time’

Two decades ago, Meraz’s first hurdle after arriving in the Roaring Fork Valley was to learn English, so she signed up for Colorado Mountain College’s English as a Second Language classes.

As Meraz’s language skills improved, her daughter was born and eventually started attending school. Meraz said Santana started asking her for help with her homework.

“I only went through the sixth grade in Mexico,” said Meraz, who grew up in a small town east of Puerto Vallarta. “I realized I needed to prepare myself to help Daniela.”

That’s when she began studying for her general equivalency diploma, or GED, and taking developmental education classes to help her pass the exam.

“I took one class at a time,” she said.

Once Meraz earned her GED, she set her sights on earning an associate degree, steadily working toward graduation.

“Rosa has one of the highest GPAs of any of my students and has taken some of the most challenging classes at CMC,” said Craig Farnum, a counselor at the college’s Lappala Center in Carbondale.

She worked at Aspen Valley Hospital for 11 years, cleaning and preparing equipment for surgery and assisting in a physician’s office. Her work there inspired her toward a career in health care.

“Helping people is something I love to do,” she said.

‘You have the power’

Daniela Santana, left, with her mother, Rosa Meraz. Santana shares her mother’s passion for the medical field. She attended schools in Carbondale, graduating from Roaring Fork High School while taking concurrent enrollment classes that allowed her to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. She said her mother has motivated her every step of the way,

“In high school, she encouraged me to take summer classes,” Santana said, “and at CMC, we’re always trying to beat each other’s scores.”

Although mother and daughter have earned different degrees – Meraz graduated with an Associate of Science and Santana earned an Associate of Arts – both also have fulfilled the prerequisites for the college’s nursing program. Meraz hopes to continue her studies in nursing at CMC, and Santana is interested in transferring to a different college to focus on obstetrics.

“Ever since I did an eighth-grade internship with midwives, I’ve always loved babies,” Santana said.

Both women agreed that Colorado Mountain College employees have been “amazing,” in Meraz’s words.

“Every single person has been so supportive to us,” said Santana. “It makes a difference.”

“They have gone beyond their responsibilities,” said Meraz. “I am so grateful for the CMC faculty, and to be part of the Roaring Fork Valley community.”

She said getting an education – right alongside your child – is not only possible, it’s attainable.

“I tell people, ‘don’t overwhelm yourself,’” Meraz said. “If you have the will, you have the power.’”