Graduate Feature: STC was a saving grace for Starr County graduate
Impacted greatly from a chronic illness, Paola Vallejo says staff and faculty at South Texas College’s Starr County campus gave her the will to succeed and receive her associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies during Commencement Dec. 10.
South Texas College Starr County student Paola Vallejo said faculty and staff were the difference between succumbing to a chronic illness or finding the will to live and graduate.
A stress disorder is what caused Vallejo to develop Pancolitis in March 2022, a severe form of ulcerative colitis stemming from her mental health condition. The disease caused her immune system to attack the large intestine.
Coming from a low-income family and with no medical insurance, the 21-year-old described an “ugly battle” with the disease, and often wondered if she would pull through. It was her experience at STC’s Starr County campus that gave her the motivation to persevere.
“It was mentally and physically breaking. No one deserves to live like this, it’s so heartbreaking. It was very hard to tell myself to keep going. I was ready to give up because I really thought I was going to die, but as it turns out, someone here at STC is always rooting for you,” Vallejo said. “Whether it’s an advisor, counselor or student success specialist, I saw that someone was in my corner no matter what was going on. I’m glad I know that now because it was it was a big help, and it was something that I'm extremely grateful for.”
“You know I cried because I finished in the summer, and I didn't think I would actually get to finish. I quite literally almost died. I almost lost my life. For the first time in a while I actually started thinking that maybe it was possible to keep going. Maybe this is not over, and I can continue to do something that will make a difference in my life and in others.”
From those days struggling to get out of bed, fighting through depression, or weathering the symptoms of the disease, Vallejo said she found the strength to succeed. She graduated with her associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies over the summer, and now will be among the 2,471 graduates who will receive their diplomas at STC’s Commencement Ceremonies Dec. 10.
With one significant challenge behind her, Vallejo said she looks ahead to the next chapter, which from the start has always been about helping those in need.
Now working for her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership at STC, Vallejo said she wants to apply what she has learned to making a difference in her community and make an impact in the high-stakes world of corporate business.
Vallejo said she believes the current climate of business in the Rio Grande Valley invites an opportunity for real societal change in the way employees are valued and treated. With the advent of companies like Space X, comes an understanding that someone has to step in on employees’ behalf.
“We come from a lower-income community, which is very much overlooked. We're growing, but it's coming with a cost and a lot of people are suffering, just like my parents,” she said. “My dad used to work for a big company, and it was a lot of hard labor, and the payoff wasn't as good as you'd expect, so I want to change that. I feel the need to do something about it.”
Reflecting on her success so far, Vallejo says that hope now fills the void previously created by her illness. This was thanks in part to the difference STC made in her life.
She now looks ahead to finishing her bachelor’s degree and possibly pursuing a master’s degree as she moves forward with her educational journey.
“You know I cried because I finished in the summer, and I didn't think I would actually get to finish. I quite literally almost died. I almost lost my life,” Vallejo said. “For the first time in a while I actually started thinking that maybe it was possible to keep going. Maybe this is not over, and I can continue to do something that will make a difference in my life and in others.”
For more information on STC’s associate and bachelor’s degree programs, visit www.southtexascollege.edu.
Registration for spring 2023 is underway. Spring classes begin Jan. 17, 2023.