Graduation marks end of three unconventional journeys


Middle photo courtesy of Paula Rosales

Among the 6,027 graduating Sunday was 87-year-old Helen Joan Hunter, a grandmother of six who returned to UNC to get the degree that she couldn’t finish in 1947.

“She’s a great story teller, and all growing up, this was a reoccurring story that she would tell us,” said Ryan Helton, Hunter’s grandson.

“About how she went to school and went through almost her entire bachelor’s degree, and then the last semester she got pregnant and had appendicitis and she could never finish her last class.”

More than 65 years later, Hunter completed her final three credits — with an online course on the history of Elvis Presley.

“I had choices, and that looked about as easy as any of them,” she said.

Hunter said finally receiving her degree made her feel complete.

“I know this means a lot to her, and it means a lot to our entire family,” Helton said.

Also among the class of 2013 graduates was Mari Rosales, a teacher who returned to school after battling an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Rosales said she hopes to use her nursing degree to eventually become a hospice nurse.

“I like to say that the doctors and the nurses both saved my life with the drugs they gave me,” she said.

“But the nurses really helped me feel human, and they saved my soul basically. They took care of the emotional aspect of my life as well as giving me great nursing care, and so I thought I could do that as well.”

Sandra Hoffman, one of Rosales’ professors at UNC, said Rosales was good at working with patients.

“She was very thoughtful,” she said. “She was very engaged with her patients and had a lot of empathy for them.

“She’s very open emotionally to other people and to understanding the experiences of other people, and perhaps that’s because she’s gone through so much herself.”

Herodes Guzman, a class of 2013 graduate who is the first in his family to graduate from college, also plans to go into medicine and will attend UNC’s School of Medicine in the fall.

“I got Type 1 diabetes when I was a senior in high school,” he said. “It doesn’t define me, but I have to deal with it every single day. And so that was probably the moment where I really wanted to go to medical school.”

Guzman said he was glad his family had the opportunity to see him graduate because it was the first time they had seen a college graduation.

“That, for me, was really special,” he said. “Not the fact that I was graduating, but the fact that my family got to see me graduate.”

Leticia Guzman, Herodes Guzman’s mom, said he is extremely dedicated to everything he does, and was accepted to every school he applied to.

Leticia Guzman also said she was excited to see her son graduate.

“For a parent, it’s a feeling of great success, especially being Latino,” she said. “He made it through his first four years, and we hope that he will keep succeeding through his endeavors.”

Contact the desk editor at

Thanks for reading.


Share on social media?

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Tar Heel.

2016-17 March Madness Preview by The Daily Tar Heel

Print Edition

Print Edition