From her sparkling green eyes to her dark hair set against ivory skin, Mary Kathleen Dorado is every bit a mirror of her Irish ancestors. The lineage becomes even more apparent if you spend any time with her family, a joyful group who are welcoming of all, eager to laugh, and rarely reach higher than about 5’6" tall.

“I’ve always really identified with the Irish part of my family history,” she said. “My mom, sister and I all resemble leprechauns, and we used to create fairy gardens in the woods by our house in the East Mountains, where I grew up.”

Whimsical Christmas decorations now fill her house, but even outside the holiday season you can see hints of magic sprinkled throughout – a miniature glass ball, a candle with a spell attached, a star chart. All signs point to a woman who grew up with, and holds on to, creativity, imagination, and wonder.

“As a child, I was encouraged to explore and imagine and dream,” Dorado said. “Being homeschooled in the East Mountains, my family and I were very close and had a tight knit group of friends we hung out with…those days in the mountain wilderness really helped define me.”

That defining familial connection was deeply tested this year, as Dorado finished out her final classes to attain her Master of Public Administration from the UNM School of Public Administration.

“I know the last few years have been hard on everyone,” she said. “It’s been a struggle just to keep things straight – time doesn’t feel real, we’re not seeing people we’re used to seeing, and there’s always this sense of impending doom or wondering what tragic headline we’ll see next.”

For Dorado, the tragedy hit very close to home not once, not twice, but four times in one year. She lost her father, her grandmother, and two uncles over the course of 15 months. Despite navigating funeral arrangements across three states, she carried on working fulltime at The University of New Mexico, while maintaining a full course load and a 4.0 GPA.

“Every single loss was a huge blow, not just for me but for my husband and kids,” she explained. “They carried me through and were incredibly gracious of my meltdowns – and there were plenty of meltdowns! My extended family was also supportive, I have a good group of friends, many of whom I’ve been friends with for decades. We lean on each other during times like these – we have to, it’s the only way.”

"I’m here to tell you, if all you can do is what you’re doing – you’re doing great!” – Mary Dorado, Class of 2021

Her husband, Carlos, and children Max (11) and Bella (9), were right at her side during the whole journey, making dinners, running errands, and –at times– driving her crazy. But Dorado says she wouldn’t have it any other way, and their companionship is part of what keeps her going. She explained how witnessing so much loss during such a short period of time caused her to emotionally shut down, but her family reminds her of another important part of life – living.

“It’s really tough continually facing death, the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic, and the anxiety of what has become daily living,” she said. “But every day is filled with choices – get out of bed, or don’t; have coffee, or don’t, recognize the world is going through transformative times, or don’t.”

For Dorado, the sting of death is lessened by the balm of life. She says everyday she remembers those she’s lost and chooses to live with them in her heart as she moves forward.

Although the luck of the Irish perhaps hasn’t been with her family this year, the perseverance of that lineage certainly has carried Dorado through her degree program. She now holds every type of degree except for a doctorate.

“Certified as a Highly Qualified Educator in Arizona, an Associates in Liberal Arts, Bachelor’s in Humanities, and now a Master’s in Public Administration,” she listed off. “But I think I’m done now. I’m really looking forward to having time to read, hike around our beautiful state, spend time with my family and dogs, and play video games with my husband – that’s one of our love languages.”

Her parting advice for other Lobos?

“If you’re getting up every day, you’re doing great. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently because only you know your mental, physical, and psychological boundaries. So, I’m here to tell you, if all you can do is what you’re doing – you’re doing great!”