UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tracey Carrillo knew she wanted to walk at her Penn State graduation ceremony, even though the University Park campus was a 13-hour drive from her home.
She knew she wanted her two sons to see how all of her hard work paid off.
“For me, having my two sons see their mom walk across the stage was a huge honor,” Carrillo said. “I always emphasize to them that no matter what your dream is, you definitely have to work hard at it. I wanted them to see their mom do something so big, something so great. There’s nothing bigger and better to me than being able to walk across the stage, get your degree, and shake hands with the dean and the president.”
Carrillo, from Duluth, Georgia, received her degree through Penn State World Campus and participated in summer graduation activities in August. It was the end of a challenging and important personal journey.
A few years after graduating high school, and then getting married, Carrillo and her family relocated to Orlando to open up a business. During that time, she was also attending Valencia Community College. In Orlando, Carrillo and her husband started a business called LT Rain Spa in 2006. The company was doing well and, pregnant with her first child, Carrillo said she was looking to make the business a long-lasting legacy for her children to come.
Then, in 2007, around the time the economy began to crash, the business began to lose money and she and her husband had to close up shop. Consequently, she also had to stop her studies at the community college.
The family ended up moving to Georgia to be closer to family. Carrillo then spent her time acting, playing extras in different films and shows such as "The Vampire Diaries." While on one of the sets, she met another extra who had a job in public relations. Carrillo became fascinated with the concept of representing different brands and companies and knew that was the track she wanted to take.
When her husband got a job, things started to turn around for the family. Carrillo was able to go back to school and get her associate’s degree in communication from Georgia State. Hungry to continue her education, Carrillo started researching schools offering public relations degrees and landed on Penn State as the best choice.
“It’s always been a dream school for me — I kind of felt like the name was following me around,” Carrillo said. “At the time when I finished my communications degree, being that I’m from Georgia and a mother of two little boys, I needed something that would be convenient and easy, so I knew online would be best for me.”
Now, at 40 years old with two sons ages 10 and 8, Carrillo finally got to walk across the stage and accept the degree she worked so hard to earn.
Carrillo said she and her family had never been to Pennsylvania before, so they made a list of the top things they had to do and see before leaving campus. They made sure to visit the Berkey Creamery, the lion shrine, the Hintz Family Alumni Center, and Carnegie Building, home of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. While there, Carrillo met Ford Risley, associate dean for undergraduate and graduate education. She said it was a great experience to be so welcomed as a World Campus student.
Carrillo said Penn State exceeded her expectations, both while she was an online student and while she was on campus for her graduation ceremony.
“It was just incredible, the whole ceremony was so touching — it really is just a great way to highlight all of the students' hard work and all of their success,” Carrillo said. “I still can’t believe it’s over, I feel like sometimes when you go through something so incredible that it goes by so quick — you blink and all the sudden you’re walking the stage.”
Carrillo was so proud of her experience that she decided to become a Penn State ambassador directly after graduation so she can help future students with any questions they might have about World Campus. She also plans to join the Alumni Association chapter in Georgia.
With her public relations degree, Carrillo hopes to get a job working for a larger corporation in a position where she gets to combine her marketing and public relations backgrounds.
“I’ve had a very interesting journey, and it hasn’t always been easy,” Carrillo said. “But I’ve always held onto my faith and just being determined. I never gave up, whether that was for schooling or just life in general because life sometimes throws you some curveballs. If I hadn’t gone through all those hard moments, it wouldn’t have led me to the moment walking across the stage at Penn State.”
Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about the Bellisario College’s degree programs offered online.