Rosa Carvalho has come a long way to walk across the stage and receive a college diploma this afternoon.
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Carvalho, 53, enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast for a year of studying abroad after hosting a Rotary exchange student at her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After becoming friends with the student's mother via the Internet, Carvalho was invited to see what life is like in the Northern Hemisphere.
"This experience started as being something fun, into something deeply revolutionary in my life," Carvalho said. "I have the peace of knowing that I will always learn, and I will always grow in my life. I am the commander of my destiny."
Carvalho needed to return to Brazil after spending two years attending UAS pursuing a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree. She spent the next two years earning credits through the university's distance-delivery program and was determined to come back and finish her degree at the Auke Lake campus.
"It was a long journey to come here," Carvalho said. "To be able to come back here and finish my degree, that was a struggle."
Dean of Students Paul Kraft said Carvalho has left a lasting impression at UAS.
"I know that it has been a life-changing experience for her," he said. "It was fun to watch her grow and change and wrestle with things that came her way and watch her emerge a different person - a person we are certainly proud to call UAS alumni."
Vicki Orazem, vice provost of student success, said Carvalho has been a role model at the university through volunteer work and helping other exchange students feel welcome on campus.
"I don't think I've ever met another nontraditional-age student, certainly not from another country, with more enthusiasm and more participation in the academic experience," Orazem said. "She takes advantage of every single opportunity that comes her way."
Carvalho has had to endure some difficulties while completing her degree. Living thousands of miles away from her three grown children, she got a divorce and became a grandmother. But she said it has all been worth it to become the person she is today.
"This experience in college made me realize that I had great potential, and it was ignited and developed in ways that I would never think," she said.
Carvalho, who had 25 years experience as an English instructor in Brazil, has landed a position as literacy coordinator and instructor with the SERRC adult education center, where she will be teaching English as a second language.
"My job is a dream job for me, being able to do something I know how to do really well," she said.
Carvalho said she hopes others may learn from her story.
"There are going to be moments that we're going to do things that we wish we wouldn't have done," she said. "So we are going to fall, but we have to stand up and brush off the dust and go on. That's what life is all about."