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December graduate pursued degree for 25 years

Patricio Espinoza can hardly believe he made it. His quest for a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications began a quarter century ago in Southern California. The journey took him through multiple states, across three time zones, to numerous schools, beginning with San Diego City College and ending at Our Lady of the Lake University.

Along the way, Espinoza got married, served as a national TV correspondent, worked as a network news producer, won six Lone Star Emmy Awards, contributed to ABC News and CNN, freelanced for Entertainment Tonight and Oprah, became the founding News Director of Telemundo, San Antonio and reported for News 4 WOAI-TV.

The closer he got to his degree, the more difficult the pursuit became. Once he and his wife, Burnessa, came to San Antonio, he felt the crushing weight of multiple responsibilities: studying for classes at OLLU, caring for his elderly parents who live near campus, reporting for News 4 WOAI-TV, holding a job at the Oblate School of Missions and trying to be a devoted husband.

“It’s a very difficult schedule,” he said in 2012, “but I make it work.”

Late in his final semester, just weeks before final exams, doctors delivered devastating news. Patricio’s wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“We got the news the week of Thanksgiving,” Patricio says. “It turned pretty dark. There was no way I could study. I quit going to work for a couple of weeks and fell behind in school. I was pretty close to quitting.”

Bernessa encouraged him to press on. Professors offered support. More good news came from doctors. Detection had come soon enough for them to believe in a positive outcome. Still, Patricio wavered. How could he catch up with his most difficult class? The math component to physical science presented an enormous challenge.

A professor provided a tutor, James Laney, the son of OLLU's College of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Laney. “This kid is like a genius,” Patricio says. “I met with him at the tutoring center and it made a big difference.”

Patricio took his last final exam on Monday. Officially, he will graduate on Saturday, completing a journey not even cancer could stop. But he will not attend commencement ceremonies. Patricio and Burnessa are flying to Mexico City to visit The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine near the hill of Tepeyac where the Patroness of the Americas is believed to have appeared to Juan Diego, the first Roman Catholic indigenous American Saint.

“My wife is really excited about our trip to the Mission of Guadalupe,” says Patricio, who aspires to become a college professor. “At least two million pilgrims go there every year. My wife is starting to feel better. I’m going to have a little more time now to be with my family and rest. But as soon as I can, I want to get back to school and start working on a master’s degree.”

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