Iris Barrios might have been a forgotten casualty—one of the youngest victims of the war that raged between the Contras and the Sandinista National Liberation Front in her native Nicaragua from 1981 to 1988. But the wisdom and efforts of a caring mother who wanted a better life for her children made it possible for Barrios to escape the atrocities of her war-torn country and emigrate to the United States at the age of 6.

“She was the brave one,” Barrios said of her mother Maria, who fled Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua, in the mid-1980s, arrived in Miami, and worked two jobs until she could earn enough money to bring the rest of her family to the United States.

This Thursday, Barrios will accept her bachelor’s degree in public relations at the University of Miami’s midyear commencement ceremony, dedicating her diploma to the one person she says made it possible. “My mom left Nicaragua because she wanted better opportunities for us,” said Barrios, “and today I’m grateful to her and to God for those opportunities.”

Her mother will be inside the BankUnited Center to witness her daughter’s graduation. “Most girls dream about their wedding day,” said Barrios, who started taking classes at UM ten years ago. “All I’ve been dreaming about is the day I graduate and having my mother there to see it.”

Barrios’ achievement will not have come without a struggle. For the past four years her mother has battled cancer, undergoing three surgeries, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, to eradicate brain tumors. During that entire time, Barrios has cared for her ailing parent, taking her to doctors appointments and making sure she took her medications—all the while attending classes part-time and working full-time as an administrative assistant at UM’s School of Communication.

“These have been the toughest years of my life,” said Barrios.

A neck injury she suffered in a serious car accident earlier this year made matters worse. “But I wasn’t going to let that stop me,” she said, noting that she wore heating pads to class to help heal her injury.

Barrios said the rewards that will ensue will have made her struggle worthwhile. She is planning on getting her master’s degree.

“Before all of this, I used to say good things come to those who wait,” she explained. “But after all the obstacles I’ve overcome, I now say where there is a will, there is a way. If you want something badly enough, you’ll get it done.”

Fall 2014 Commencement will be held in the BankUnited Center on Thursday, December 18, at 10. a.m. for all graduate and undergraduate degrees awarded from all schools and colleges, except medical degrees from the Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit the commencement website.

This article was orginally written for UM News by Robert C. Jones Jr.