‘You did not come this far just to come this far’

Thursday, May 6, 2021
Mayra Soto
Mayra Soto
Mayra Soto
Mayra Soto
Mayra Soto

EMCC student graduates while working full-time, caring for terminally ill son 

Mayra Soto is graduating this spring from Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) and she has a message to share: “To everyone wondering if they can do it, you can. You did not come this far just to come this far.”

Mayra began her journey at EMCC in 2019 with the goal of getting an associate degree in business administration in two years. A pretty attainable goal until you factor in that the first-generation college student is also a full-time Patient Care Coordinator at Banner Health and a mother to two children, one of whom has a terminal rare neuromuscular disease.

“I was determined to complete an education to assure that my son always has everything he needs because I worked hard to assure that I set our future to be stable for him and my daughter,” Mayra said.

Her son, Jordan, has giant axonal neuropathy, or GAN, a rare inherited genetic disorder that affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Jordan, who turns 11 in June, was diagnosed with GAN when he was 4.

“That day was really hard,” Mayra said. “I was 22 and sat in a room while a doctor told us they had never seen this disease, didn’t have much information on it other than what they were reading from a book, and that my son wasn’t going to be with us for long.”

Children diagnosed with GAN typically don’t survive past their 20s. As the disorder progresses, the symptoms worsen. Most people with GAN first have problems with walking. Later, they may lose sensation, strength, and reflexes in their limbs; experience difficulty coordinating movements; and require wheelchair assistance.

“We were told that at around 10 years of age, things would start to get tough, and oh boy, they have,” Mayra said. “We now see a team of about 14 doctors, a doctor for every part of Jordan’s body, on top of a physical therapist and psychologist as this takes a toll not only on Jordan but all of us around him.”

Mayra has spent countless hours at the hospital with her laptop by her side in order to complete her education while being the rock that keeps her son going. She has taken all of her classes online, the only option, she said, that made it possible for her to earn a degree.

“I wouldn't have been able to achieve my associate without the online degree option at Estrella,” she said. “It has made it all so simple for me. I am able to log on, pick my classes, and just get going.”

EMCC’s Flex Start classes also helped. Flex Start classes give students the opportunity to enroll in classes that start at different times throughout the semester and complete the courses in a shorter period of time.

“The fact that I have been able to do fast track classes and make sure some start as others finish has made it all flow smoothly,” she said.

Mayra has already been accepted to Arizona State University. She will begin in the fall and work toward a bachelor’s in the business field as well as a certificate in nonprofit leadership.

“I want to be able to grow into a management role at Banner Health and also start a nonprofit to serve the Hispanic community with resources for children with neuromuscular conditions,” she said. “Being a Hispanic mother and working in the healthcare field, I know how hard maneuvering the healthcare system can be a lot of times.”

For now, Mayra is looking forward to celebrating her achievement with her boyfriend, Edwin, and her two children, Jordan and Ellie, who is 5, during EMCC’s Car-mence-ment Ceremony on May 12 and Virtual Graduation Ceremony on May 14.

“I am beyond excited,” she said. “I feel like many don’t think associates are big deals, but to me, it is. I am a mother and I have a full life that I take care of. I didn’t think I would be able to get myself back to school with everything else I do. It is such a big deal for me.”   

It’s not too late to apply for graduation and participate in EMCC’s Car-mence-ment Ceremony, the college’s socially distanced alternative to the traditional in-person ceremony. During the event, graduates will drive through campus, pick up their diploma covers, mortarboard decorations, get their pictures taken, and pick up some EMCC swag, all while being celebrated by EMCC faculty and staff. To learn more, go to https://www.estrellamountain.edu/graduation.