The Alvarez family of Griffith has overcome plenty to be able to celebrate plenty this spring.
Matthew, 22, is graduating from Purdue University Calumet Sunday (5/22) with a baccalaureate degree in management, having received the School of Management’s Outstanding Student award. His brother, Gary, 25, who overcame leukemia to complete his management degree requirements last December, also is participating in Sunday’s 6 p.m. Commencement Exercises at Merrillville’s Radisson Star Plaza Theatre. Graduating as well are Gary’s wife, Rebecca (Becky), 24, and his mother, Elizabeth (Liz) Alvarez, 48.
Becky and Liz have shared classes and friends as human resources majors in Purdue Calumet’s Bachelor of Arts in Business program. What’s more, Liz has persevered through painful fibromyalgia syndrome to qualify to participate in Sunday’s graduation.
But recognizing the achievement of four degrees Sunday is not the end of the celebration for the Alvarez’s. Another son and sibling, Raymond Alvarez, is on pace to graduate from Griffith High School in early June. Two months later, Gary and Becky look forward to becoming parents.
“I saw my kids excel; things that transpired in their lives motivated me to go back to school,” said Liz, who had begun a college education years earlier at another Northwest Indiana institution. “When I saw Gary struggle with his illness, overcome it and succeed, I figured if he can do it, I can, too. Yes, it’s been very stressful, but certainly worth it.”
Give Liz’s husband and family patriarch, Antonio Alvarez, a huge assist, as well. As a Viet Nam veteran and former marine who suffered a disability serving his country, he has qualified to apply GI Bill benefits to fund most of the cost of his sons’ and wife’s Purdue education.
Introduced by friends in 2003, Griffith High School graduate Gary and Morton alumna Becky married in 2008—a year and a half after Gary was diagnosed with leukemia. Both were attending Purdue’s West Lafayette campus at the time, and both withdrew a week before spring semester final exams when Gary was hospitalized.
After he regained his health, Gary and Becky resumed their education at Purdue Calumet during the fall of 2008. Recurring side effects hospitalized him again the following spring, but he was able to continue his education, thanks to “Purdue Calumet professors who were very understanding,” he said.
He persisted to compile a 3.25 overall grade point average while majoring in accounting and finance. What’s more, an internship that one of his instructors, Ed Furticella, helped Gary obtain last summer blossomed into a job.
The past three years have been somewhat of a blur for Becky, who has juggled a full time job and attended to her husband’s health needs, while pursuing her education—and now anticipating their first child.
“I’ve always had to work full time while I’ve gone to school,” she said. “But having the opportunity to take night and on-line classes has helped, and the professors here have been very accessible and so interesting. I would take a class from Professor (John) Lucas if he taught the phone book.”
Liz agrees, adding, “I absolutely have loved my professors. They inspired me; they made learning fun. My classes have been primarily with my daughter-in-law. I have developed friendships with 20-something-year-old individuals I have gotten to know from my classes.”
Lucas, a professor of human resource management, called Liz and Becky “hard working and dedicated…Both are delightful who have always conducted themselves with the highest degree of integrity. They also have been active in the student SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) organization.”
Additionally, Liz has been an honor student and earned selection this spring to “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.”
But joining her sons and daughter-in-law Sunday in celebrating their Purdue degrees trumps individual recognition.
“As a mom, I am very proud of what my family has accomplished,” she said. “It was through their determination to overcome their obstacles and succeed that I chose to follow in their footsteps.”