By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Some girls dream about the perfect wedding day – the venue, flowers and, of course, a stunning white dress.
Leidimar Ramirez envisioned a different moment. She couldn’t wait to put on a cap and gown and walk across the stage to receive a college degree.
“I always dreamed about that day,” said Ramirez, who grew up in Venezuela.
She experienced this sense of achievement for the first time in July 2000, when she graduated from Simon Rodriguez University in Caracas with a bachelor’s degree in education.
Two decades later, Ramirez is equally ecstatic as she adds a third degree to her resume.
Ramirez, her husband Ruben and their 11-year-old daughter Carmen traveled from their home in Newport News, Virginia, so she could take part in tonight’s hooding ceremony at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“I’m very excited,” said Ramirez, who is visiting Kearney and the UNK campus for the first time. “I worked very hard on this. When you have a family, a very demanding job and everyday responsibilities, the energy and the time can be difficult to find.”
Ramirez is graduating with a Master of Arts in Education-Spanish Education. She was also selected to be the student speaker for the graduate degree exercises, scheduled for 7 p.m. in UNK’s Health and Sports Center.
Michelle Warren, an associate Spanish professor and graduate program chair in UNK’s Department of Modern Languages, nominated her for the honor.
“Leidimar is a real leader in our field,” Warren said. “She is dynamic and charismatic. Our students are in good hands with professionals like her.”
Ramirez started teaching English in her home country of Venezuela while attending Simon Rodriguez University, where she studied foreign language instruction. A teacher exchange program took her to Overland Park, Kansas, in 2002, and she taught Spanish at schools in Texas and Virginia before transitioning to her current position as an English as a second language instructor at Menchville High School in Newport News.
She enrolled in UNK’s online master’s program in Spanish education to unlock another professional opportunity.
Although she already held a master’s degree from Grand Canyon University, Ramirez needed additional graduate courses to qualify for an adjunct Spanish instructor position at a local university. She chose the UNK program because it focuses on innovative teaching methods and linguistics that expand the expertise of in-serve educators and prepare them for career advancements.
“I wanted something that I can really use in my classroom,” said Ramirez, who completed the 36-credit hour program in two years while posting a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Unlike her other master’s program, Ramirez was able to take classes on a regular schedule, allowing her to develop relationships with faculty and fellow graduate students, including another native Venezuelan living in Texas and a Hawaii resident who also traveled to Kearney for the commencement ceremony. They interacted through Zoom – creating a “real classroom setting” – supported each other and formed friendships.
“I like that kind of closeness,” Ramirez said. “You know they’re always there for you.”
Ramirez started teaching as an adjunct instructor at Christopher Newport University in January. She’s using the job as a trial run to determine whether she’d like to be a full-time college professor.
In the meantime, she’ll continue to make a difference at Menchville High School, where she hopes to inspire students with her latest graduation story.
“This moment I am going through is very special,” Ramirez said. “Graduations are always memorable moments, but finishing a second online master’s degree, coming to campus and being the speaker, that’s pretty cool.”