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Family of the Year: For this freshman, attending Mason is a truly moving experience

October 14, 2016   /   by Damian Cristodero

The 2016 Alan and Sally Merten Family of the Year Award goes to the Enrique family: Jill, daughter Risa, and Carlos. Photo by Ron Aira.

As hard as Risa Enrique tried, she could not hold back the tears. 

What other reaction could she have, really? Her parents had uprooted their lives for her, moving from Florida to Virginia so she could attend George Mason University. 

“I just want to make them proud,” the freshman said, her voice cracking. “I know I’m here for a reason.” 

Risa fell in love with George Mason’s campus during her visit; she said it “felt like home.” And it has a well-respected kinesiology program she is enrolled in as a major. But the out-of-state tuition was prohibitive for the family, so Enrique’s parents, Jill and Carlos, decided to sell their home of almost four years in Orlando, Fla., and relocate to Fredericksburg, Va. 

The move and Risa’s qualification for in-state tuition made Mason much more affordable. It also thrilled Risa. 

“When you see your child wants something so badly, you want to make it happen,” Jill said. “Why wouldn’t we do this for her?” 

The family’s commitment to each other and Mason is why the Enriques—including Risa’s older brother Ricarldo, a master at arms in the Navy; and older sister Raina, attending the University of North Carolina—received the Alan and Sally Merten Family of the Year Award. The family was honored at the Mason Family Welcome Dinner, Friday, Oct. 14, as part of Family/Alumni Weekend. 

The award, given by the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services, a Division of University Life, recognizes the critical role of families in the student experience. As Risa said, without her parents’ sacrifice, she likely would be attending school in Florida. 

And that would have been fine, she said.  

“But then I realized I wanted to move and get a chance to broaden my horizons and experience new things.”  

Even so, the move was not taken lightly. The family’s Orlando home was custom built. They had put down roots after moving from Chesapeake, Va. But with their son stationed in Norfolk, Va., and their daughter in Chapel Hill, N.C., relocating would not only benefit Risa. It would bring an already tight-knit family into relative proximity. 

“You don’t think twice,” said father Carlos, a retired 15-year Navy veteran. “When you think of a child’s education and you see the light in their eyes and in their face when pursuing a dream, I want to bring that to life.” 

All say the move has been worth it. 

Leah Blue, Risa’s academic advisor, said that because of Risa’s preparation and hard work she is ahead in her studies, and Risa is enjoying the Mason community. 

“I’ve met so many different people from so many different groups, which is why I chose Mason, because of the diversity,” she said. “I’m enjoying my classes. It’s beautiful to be part of this environment. ”