Distinguished Grad Finalist Powers Through a Pandemic

When Maria Thompson decided to go to college, her journey became a family affair.

She was 30 years old, with three kids and a husband when she started classes at Valencia College. For her, the challenges of attending college weren’t academic, but in finding a good balance between life and school.

“For me, it was balancing my family life and school life. Those were my main tribulations getting to the end of the road,” she says. “It’s hard to be 100 percent intentional with everything you do when you wear so many hats.”

“Two of my children go to school virtually; I’m here trying to play teacher’s assistant,” she says. “After that, I didn’t have a lot of time for homework. I would stay up till 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to finish my work.”

And, when she joined the Seneff Honors College, she struggled to participate in co-curricular events – events on campus that she was required to attend. But when the COVID pandemic forced the college to move classes and all events online, the pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise for Thompson, who was also pregnant with her fourth child.

“I had more access to college-wide events that were — and still currently are — virtual, I was able to give back to my community in completing 100 service-learning hours with the Children’s Home Society organization through an alternative school in Orange County,” she says. She also worked on a group project virtually and completed an honors research project and presented it virtually.

As she approached graduation in spring 2021, Thompson was also named a finalist to be the college’s Distinguished Graduate. But the workload  has not eased. “I do so while nursing a baby through homework assignments and Zoom meetings, assisting my two oldest in virtual schooling, and making sure I play my role as a wife by up-keeping a household and scheduling time for my husband.”

The challenges Thompson faced at Valencia have taught her much: How to manage her time, how to take care of herself, and how to thrive and grow even in uncomfortable situations.

Next, she’ll head to the University of Central Florida, where she plans to study psychology and pre-med – and hopes to one day become a psychiatrist, working with children who struggle with emotional eating.