VSU Student Who Battled Cancer While Working Toward Her Degree Will Graduate On Saturday

Virginia State University to confer nearly 600 degrees during the Spring 2023 Commencement ceremony 

On Saturday, May 13th, Virginia State University will award degrees to nearly 600 students—among those students is Elianna Benavidez, whose story is a testimony of the Greater at VSU. Elianna is a 30-year-old nontraditional first-generation college student, the daughter of immigrants, and a cancer survivor who also worked full-time while pursuing her degree.

Elianna began her college career in 2011 at another university in central Virginia. She made the difficult decision to drop out of school to assist her parents, both Mexican immigrants, in running the family restaurant. In 2016, her father was diagnosed and died of lymphoma cancer.

To fulfill a promise to her father to complete her degree, Elianna enrolled in VSU in 2017. Less than a year after losing her father and enrolling in VSU, Elianna was also diagnosed with cancer.

She endured radiation and had her thyroid removed, but she did not let that stop her from pressing on toward her degree. Benavidez says the community she found at Virginia State University was very instrumental in that process.

"Even when I left, all of my professors were super understanding. I’ve always been thankful to VSU for that," said Benavidez. "All of my professors—anytime I had questions or doubts, Professor Nasser Ghariban and others were always ready and willing to help me. I really appreciated that throughout my whole process."

Benavidez will graduate with honors on Saturday and receive her Bachelor of Science in Accounting. She has been offered a job at a local accounting firm but plans to continue working in the family business. She also plans to pursue a master's degree and become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

"At Virginia State University, we seek to establish a diverse and inclusive learning environment so that all students, even those who may have taken a different path to get to college, find a personable, stable, and nurturing atmosphere that is conducive to helping them learn and grow," said Gwen Williams Dandridge, Assistant Vice President of Communications. "Elianna’s story is one of many stories of how VSU transforms lives. She is a shining example of GREATER happens here."

Virginia State University Commencement will be held on Saturday, May 13, 2023, in the VSU Multipurpose Center. The ceremony will begin at 8:30 AM. It will be live-streamed via the VSU website and the VSU Facebook page and broadcast live on WVST radio.