Graduate Alondra Angelica Alvarez Ortiz: Uprooted, student finds passion for helping others through teaching

alverez in grad cap and gown

When Alondra Angelica Alvarez Ortiz was seven years old, her family moved from Mexico to the U.S. She spent every night thereafter crying herself to sleep—she missed her little hometown of Gomez Palacio, visiting her tia’s snack cart after school and dressing up in a long traditional skirt and bright red lipstick to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day. She didn’t understand America, with lines down the middle of the roads and lack of people in the back of pickups. She also didn’t understand the “better life” her mother insisted she would have here, for which she sacrificed so much. How could a society so fixated on working and money be better than her simple and carefree Gomez?

Alvarez at age 5 poses with a boy dressed in costumeIn Elk City, Oklahoma, Alvarez enrolled in second grade without knowing a word of English. Luckily, her teacher was bilingual and helped make the transition a little easier.

“Mrs. Shackle was more than a teacher that graded papers; she built meaningful relationships with her students,” Alvarez said. “She helped me learn English and dedicated so much of her time to making sure I did. I remember looking around her room one day, and suddenly I said, ‘I want to be a teacher when I grow up!’”

While most children spend their free time playing house, Alvarez played “school.” She would line up all her stuffed animal students and practice her classroom lectures using a toy chalkboard.

Throughout the years, her passion for being an educator only grew. After graduating from high school, she moved to Arizona to pursue her bachelor’s degree. She had visited the state once before and fell in love with the sunshine and mountains. To save money, Alvarez enrolled in Paradise Valley Community College with plans of transferring to Northern Arizona University. She liked the flexibility and pace of NAU’s teaching program and the idea of earning her degree for free through the Arizona Teachers Academy.

“Receiving an education creates doors of opportunity to chase your dreams and do what one was born to do,” said Alvarez, who is studying Elementary and Special Education. “I come from past generations of family members that have worked harsh labor jobs their whole lives. I watched my mother arrive home, dragging her feet, exhausted after cleaning rich guys’ mansions so that I could have a roof over my head. I also watched my father work long night shifts driving a semi truck to put food on our plates. When parents say they want better for you, it’s not just a saying. Every assignment, project and test I completed, I did so with my parents in mind. They gave up everything to give me everything.”

Alvarez poses in graduation gownIn addition to Mrs. Shackle, Alvarez’s NAU professors also had a big impact on her life. Meaningful relationships with them taught her how to not only be an efficient educator, but also a professional in the education field. But, without a doubt, she owes her success to her No. 1 supporter—her mother.

“I look back on all of the years growing up, and if not for the challenges we overcame, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I am proud of where I come from. Mexico will hold a special place in my heart forever; the culture and traditions will continue to live on in my life now and in the future. And though leaving Mexico was difficult for me; I now can understand and appreciate my mother’s significant sacrifice for us. Being grateful to be here in the U.S. with the opportunity to pursue my dreams of teaching does not begin to describe the sentiment. My mother’s courage, faith and unconditional love prospered into this reality. For this, I am forever grateful.”

After graduating on Friday, Alvarez and her partner plan to move back to Oklahoma to welcome a baby girl—she is due in March. She hopes to get a general education teaching job and is keeping her fingers crossed she can find an opening for a second-grade classroom—the grade that forever changed her life.

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Carly Banks | NAU Communications
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NAU Communications