Inspired by her parents, spring 2017 graduate Zuleyka Valdes hopes to make a difference through teaching.

Inspired by her parents, spring 2017 graduate Zuleyka Valdes hopes to make a difference through teaching

MURRAY, Ky. — Two years ago, Zuleyka Valdes’ father passed away during her sophomore year at Murray State University. It was an incredibly hard experience to endure, but her father’s motivation for her to do well in school convinced Valdes to work toward a double degree. She kept going strong because of him.

“I live every moment of my days to make him proud and to do the best things I can in life. He was the kind of person that always helped and encouraged me. He made me into the woman I am today,” said Valdes.

Now, she is prepared to graduate from Murray State in spring 2017 with a double major in middle school education and Spanish. She attributes her drive to reach this point in life to her father as well as her mother.

“My parents are my motivation and strength to be the best I can be and achieve my goals and dreams,” said Valdes, adding that her mother, who is now her only relative in the U.S., continues to serve as a beacon of positivity and strength.

Born in Puerto Rico, Valdes said her family moved to Bronx, N.Y. when she was four. After living two years there and experiencing 9/11, they moved to various places throughout Kentucky, including Danville and Liberty, before settling in Campbellsville. Switching schools so many times helped shape her into the person she is today.

“The experience of moving around a lot of times to different types of cities allowed me to become a very open-minded individual. It opened doors for me to meet new people, experience new places, and helped me grow into an adaptable and accepting person,” explained Valdes.

Fluent in English and Spanish, Valdes was taught both languages growing up. Her parents spoke to her only in Spanish at home, while she learned English in school and through her love of reading. Both of her parents were Spanish teachers, which inspired her to follow in their footsteps.

After earning a 4.2 GPA in high school, she was awarded a full-ride scholarship — the Marvin D. Mills scholarship — as well as the Minority Educator Recruitment and Retention Scholarship. Attending Murray State, she said, has opened a lot of doors for her. Professors and mentors have helped her get involved in a long list of clubs and organizations: the Emerging Scholars Institute, Sueño Latino Club, The Muses a cappella group, the Murray State Middle Level Association, the International Conversation Partner Program and the National Society of Collegiate Members. She has also received multiple job opportunities, including teaching a Spanish club, tutoring students in Spanish and serving as an orientation leader for International Student Services on campus.

Dr. Tanya Romero-González, assistant professor of Spanish, has served as Valdes’ advisor in the department of modern languages and helped Valdes successfully navigate two majors.

“During this time, I have supported her by forging relationships with colleagues in the administration and other departments and colleges in order to ensure that Zuleyka was on track. This has helped me view my role as an advisor as a collaborator and advocate for my students. A lot of people are really involved in this process — it does take a Murray State village to have successful graduates!”

Taking on two majors wasn’t easy, but she said Valdes “took on this challenge with energy and motivation” that continually impressed her.

“We often joked that, after this, she would be more than ready to deal with any future challenges, including graduate school or joining the workforce,” said Romero-González.

Looking ahead to the commencement ceremony, Valdes is excited to walk across the stage and receive the double degree she has worked tirelessly to earn. Some of her family members from Puerto Rico will be there to witness the accomplishment.

Once she graduates, she hopes to start making an impact in students’ lives through a teaching position in an urban school, and she also plans to work toward a master’s degree. Of course, she’ll continue striving to make her parents proud.

“I am living my dreams and working hard through everything I set my mind to do,” said Valdes.

Complete information on the May 2017 Commencement ceremony, as well as #RacerGraduation stories, can be found at

About Murray State University: Murray State University provides an “Opportunity Afforded” for more than 10,000 students through a high-quality education with experiential learning, academic and personal growth and the ability to secure a lifetime of success. Since 1922, the true value of higher education has been found at Murray State University, where our commitment is to afford endless opportunities for developing leaders in the community, the country and the world. The University’s main campus is located in Murray, Ky. and includes five regional campuses. For more information on Murray State University, please visit


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