When Mary Ann Albornoz of Fairfield, New Jersey received her diploma May 15 at Caldwell University’s commencement it meant much more to her than anyone could imagine. “Everything that diploma holds defines me,” she says. Born with cerebral palsy, Albornoz says she had always been told that she would “have to adapt and mold” and that she couldn’t be a productive member of society. “Caldwell didn’t tell me that … I found everything I was looking for here,” she says. “I knew in the deepest end of my soul I would find it here.”
Albornoz had overcome many obstacles by the time she earned her degree in psychology.
In 2011, after Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey, her family’s home in Fairfield was condemned, and she and her parents had to live in Central and South Jersey. The house’s foundation had cracked, and by the time her father had the home readapted for Albornoz’s needs, she had missed several months of school.
In 2013 her motorized wheelchair died. It took nine months of waiting for approvals, finding a way to pay and designing the chair before she received a new chair and could return to her college studies.
Albornoz aspires to use her experiences to become a life coach for others with disabilities and to show them “there’s a world to see, a life to live and we should be a part of it.” She wants people with disabilities to know that they can reach their goals. “It might take 20 years, but dreams do and can come true.”
She leaves college with gratitude for the friends she has made and to the faculty and staff, especially Dr. Stephen Maret in the Psychology Department, “the number-one person who greatly impacted my growth as a person,” she says.
The openness at Caldwell makes it a special place, she says. “They think with their hearts instead of our society’s values.”
Caldwell is a place where people think about what one can do instead of what one can’t do and they find a way to make those possibilities a reality. “That’s the unmistakable magic of Caldwell,” she says.
“If God gave me the opportunity to do this, it must be for a bigger reason. And I can’t wait to see what that reason is.”