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Published May 11, 2021
Maria Montaño has been waiting to graduate with a college degree since the day her father told her that there was no point for her, as a woman, to pursue an education. That was 37 years ago.
Her lifelong drive and passion to be an educated woman have extra meaning: The immigrant from Mexico will receive her bachelor’s degree in social science, along with her eldest daughter, Ada Montaño Mushati, Saturday, May 15, at the University of Wyoming’s commencement ceremonies. Mushati, who earned two bachelor’s degrees in psychology (2013) and sociology, with a minor in Latinx studies (2019), will receive her master’s in social work this weekend. All of her degrees are from UW.
Mushati says she is prouder of her mother’s accomplishments than her own, even though she has now received two undergraduate and graduate-level degrees.
“My mother was a stay-at-home mom throughout my and my sister Heidi’s years in school. She wanted to focus on raising me and my sister before doing things for herself,” Mushati says. “My mother had to grow up very quickly, and she dropped out of high school when she was 15. She was married young and had me young, so she put many of her dreams on hold so that my dad and her two daughters could fulfill theirs. Now, it is her turn, and we are so excited to be there to cheer her on when she walks across that stage.”
Putting family first is steeped heavily in Mexican culture.
Born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, Montaño, 52, moved to the United States at age 9. However, when she married Mario at 17, she went back to Mexico and lived there for a couple of years because her husband was a teacher in their home country. Since 1999, Mario has been a Spanish teacher in Sheridan County School District 2.
“When we got married, we made a deal that, one day, he would become a teacher in the United States and, after that, I would get my own education since I had dropped out of school when I was 15,” Montaño says.
Mushati, 33, says her mom was a stay-at-home mother for 20 years and started her educational journey by receiving her GED in 1991.
“Unselfishly, she waited until my father received his degree, and my sister and I left for college to then focus on herself and accomplish the things that she has always wanted,” Mushati says.
With Mushati already at UW working on her own career path, Montaño earned an associate of applied science degree in early childhood education (2012) and associate of arts degree (2014), both from Sheridan College. Montaño completed her Sheridan College degrees in person and finished all of her UW coursework online, while maintaining a full-time job as a Spanish instructor and librarian at Sheridan’s Holy Name Catholic School.
She earned one of her associate degrees at Sheridan College with Heidi, who later earned an undergraduate degree from UW. Heidi received a master’s degree from the University of Southern California.
“I was blessed with a husband and two daughters who motivated me even more and encouraged me to go to school,” Montaño says.
Mushati hopes to be a school social worker but does not want to stop there. She is passionate about education and the doors that it opens for people, which is why she wants to assist in education policy improvements, making it more accessible for those who want it.
Those are the lessons she learned from her mother -- putting others first. She also remembers growing up and her mother telling her that she could do anything that she wanted to do with her life, and that she should never give up on those dreams. But, more important, her mother said that she would go back to school and earn a college degree, which always was her mom’s goal.
“My mother not only told me this -- she showed me. It is such an honor to graduate with my mother, especially knowing the struggles that she went through to get to where she is today. So, to see her actually accomplish it really makes me emotional, because I know how hard she worked to get here,” Mushati says. “It has been years of waiting, then remembering how to be a student again. She had to learn how to use a computer, type and how to take notes in class. She started from the very beginning but never let anything discourage her. She is truly amazing.”
What makes Montaño prouder -- even more than her own accomplishment -- is having two daughters earn master’s degrees and to graduate at the same time as both -- this time with Mushati.
“I do not have the words to express my honor to see my oldest achieve her goals and be able to share this accomplishment together this weekend,” she says. “The deal that my husband and I made when we got married has officially been sealed. It took a little longer than I had thought, but we did it.”