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Her father died of cancer. Then she was diagnosed. What she just did would have made him 'ecstatic.'

Posted at 7:18 PM, May 13, 2023

ETTRICK, Va. — A woman who graduated from Virginia State University after studying over 12 years amid a series of heartbreaks is celebrating the major milestone.

Elianna Benavidez began her studies in 2011 at another school, but dropped out to help her parents run their family restaurant.

Elianna Benavidez and her father
Elianna Benavidez and her father

Then Benavidez's father passed away from lymphoma cancer in 2016.

“It was very hard," Benavidez recalled. "There is no easy way to put it.”

But she said her father always prioritized education and "pushed her to do better in school."

So after her father's passing, Benavidez said she found her strength and enrolled in VSU in her dad's honor.

Virginia State University Campus
Virginia State University Campus

"I wanted to come back to school and finish it for him," Benavidez said.

However, five months later, life took another turn. That is when a doctor's visit for a cold led to her own cancer diagnosis.

"I was afraid because I had just lost my father to cancer," Benavidez explained. "So obviously hearing that word was very triggering.”

She stepped back from school for two years while she underwent radiation and had her thyroid removed. All the while she continued to manage the family business.

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"You've got to get back into the rhythm, especially being gone for so long and being in work mode to put that on halt," she said. "But at the same time, I couldn't because it's a family business. I had to keep working at that, and schedule those things. meetings. And come back to school, be in class, be participating and active."

However, she said her father’s wish for her to complete her education motivated her go back to school.

As a result, Benavidez returned VSU to get her degree while balancing classes while still running the family restaurant.

Elianna Benavidez
Elianna Benavidez

The 30-year-old first first-generation college student fulfilled her dad's dream on Saturday. That is when she graduated with honors Saturday and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

“He would be ecstatic. That's for sure,” she said.

Benavidez said she plans to continue managing the family business for now, but hopes to enter the corporate world.

"I’m excited for them I’m excited for myself, but I’m also wanting to go out and experience world now and say, 'I did this milestone,'" she said.

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