Amber Chavez (Student)

Amber Chavez, pictured in a vet's office taking care of a bulldog.

For as long as she’s been in school, Amber Chavez’s April 29 birthday has fallen on final exam week.

But this year, her birthday falls on a day she’s been working toward her whole life—her last day of school as a veterinary student in Mississippi State’s College of Veterinary Medicine before graduation.

She is about to become the first person in her family not only to graduate from college, but to have earned an advanced degree.

“Big things are happening that week,” Chavez said. “I’m a little nervous but mostly excited.”

Born in Mobile, Alabama, to parents who both worked two jobs to support their family, Chavez knew the value of hard work from a young age.

“I wouldn’t have the work ethic I have if it wasn’t for them,” she said. “They wanted something better, for them and for me, and they did what had to be done.”

Her parents divorced when Chavez was 15, and her father struggled to support their household on his own. Chavez immediately dropped out of high school, and began working two jobs to help her family.

Eventually, things improved and Chavez was able to earn her GED certificate. She continued to work full time while attending community college and then enrolled at Mississippi State for a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Against the odds and after overcoming many obstacles, Chavez enrolled in veterinary school shortly after her 28th birthday.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always said I wanted to go to veterinary school,” Chavez said. “I think when I dropped out of high school, my parents thought that it was never going to happen. When I told them I was going to make it happen, they were very supportive. They said, ‘You’ve made it this far, why couldn’t you make it that far?’”

Chavez’s time in veterinary school has been difficult, not only academically, but also financially. With the long days she spent on campus, it was hard to work enough hours to pay her bills, even with student loans. At times, she lost both power and water, and could not afford to pay her cell phone bill.

Things were made worse when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Chavez needed to support him. Fortunately, when she needed help the most, Chavez received an award from the Addie Scholarship Fund, a scholarship for fulltime College of Veterinary Medicine students with demonstrated financial need.

“If it wouldn’t have been for these scholarships, I probably would have been living in my car,” Chavez said. “They really helped me make it through those tough times.”

As her father’s health improved, Chavez was faced with another struggle: her mother had a major stroke, and needed care. All the while, Chavez was on clinical rotation as a student and working as a veterinary technician at MSU’s Animal Health Center. Additionally, she took shifts at a fast food restaurant from midnight to 4 a.m.

Her work as a veterinary technician led Chavez to develop an interest in surgery, something she will pursue when she soon begins working at a Wisconsin general practice.

Chavez’s primary career goal is to have her own practice. She hopes to one day repay the generosity shown to her while a veterinary student by establishing a scholarship in the College of Veterinary Medicine for those like her.

“It’s hard to focus on learning as well as some of your peers do when you’re worried about where your next meal is going to come from or when the power is going to get cut off,” Chavez said. “Someone helped me, so I want to pay it forward.”