When Baylor University graduate Emanuel Dominguez walked across the stage Saturday, a special surprise waited for him. His mother, Cristina Dominguez, stood among the faculty after reading a prayer during the ceremony.

The two embraced on stage before Emanuel received his diploma, and he still struggles to describe his emotions from the moment.

“Not everyone gets to hug their mother when crossing the stage,” he said.

Lori Fogleman, Baylor’s assistant vice president of media communications, said at each graduation a Baylor employee with a graduating student on tuition assistance is asked to say the prayer.

Cristina Dominguez is thrilled the university chose her.

“This is a big honor. I can’t believe it,” she said. “I’m thankful to God because when I see his face, Emanuel was very surprised when he saw me walking with the faculty.”

Emanuel Dominguez’s graduation marked the finale of a long, strenuous journey for the pair.

Cristina Dominguez moved 24 years ago from Puebla, Mexico, to Waco, where she raised her daughter and son, Emanuel, as a single mom.

She earned a living as a cook at Baylor’s Piper Center for Family Studies and Child Development, where she worked full-time hours despite her part-time status that didn’t provide benefits. At each annual review, she would request to be slated as full time so her two children could attend Baylor in the future, but nothing changed.

When her daughter, Luz Rueda, enrolled at Baylor and the cost became too much, she visited the president’s office to push for full-time benefits.

“Maybe nobody did it before, I’m sure nobody did it before. It was a little bit crazy,” Cristina Dominguez said.

When the university heard the Dominguezes’ situation, they evaluated the number of hours she worked and switched her status to full time. It even returned $10,000 of Rueda’s tuition costs. By the time Emanuel Dominguez enrolled, he was able to use Baylor’s tuition remission program, which provides two free courses — eight credit hours — per semester for any student of a full-time employee.

Scholarships earned by graduating 17th in his Waco High School class covered the rest.

“I am grateful for Baylor. It was a lot of blessings for me and my family,” Cristina Dominguez said. “It’s a good place to work.”

But the work had just started for Emanuel Dominguez.

The recent graduate said attending Baylor wasn’t an option for him without the tuition remission program.

He worked throughout his college career, often full time or carrying two jobs and his mom still chipped in for rent occasionally. But the struggle was worth it, he said.

Emanuel Dominguez joined Lambda Phi Epsilon and Alpha Kappa Psi, which gave him wonderful experiences at the school, he said.

He is now headed for a sales job in Austin, where he will put his business administration, management and entrepreneurship degree to good use.

Cristina Dominguez said she didn’t have any doubt her son would graduate.

“He’s very disciplined and takes it serious — his jobs. I was expecting (him to graduate) of course,” she said.

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