I remember June 1993 at Santa Ana Edison Field so clearly…I just don’t remember the exact calendar day. But I do remember how excited I felt to be surrounded by so many of my fellow Saddleback High School seniors and standing in line as we were preparing to enter the field and start our graduation ceremony. I don’t remember much of the speech by our valedictorian, or who our valedictorian was, but I do remember my green robe, that I was graduating with honors, and the way my dad hugged and lifted me up when the ceremony was finally over and the immense pride I could see reflected in his eyes.
I don’t remember how it was that I even applied to California State University Fullerton, maybe through my AP English class? Or even how it was that I found out I got accepted, but I knew I was going. It was such a pivotal time in my life and so many things happened from that graduation day in June of 1993 – October 1994 that changed my life and the path I thought I was headed, in ways that I never would have imagined. I had always been the girl that got along well with her parents – I actually loved hanging out with them, that did well in school, and that didn’t get into trouble. The kind of girl that parents were okay with their kids going out with as long as I was going along because they knew I had a good head on my shoulders. But in that year everything changed. My family was falling apart. One morning my father had shared with me that he no longer wanted to be married to my mom but he still wanted us to have the same close relationship. I had always been a daddy’s girl, but the day he shared that with me, my heart broke and something within me started to unravel. Shortly after graduating I started to date a guy that my parents clearly hated, and that I knew was no good for me, but I did it because I was so angry and hurt by my parents, and so I wanted to hurt them. Clearly this was not the frame of mind to start a new path in, yet somewhere deep inside me I still had visions of finishing college in 4 years. Back then I wanted to get my degree in English Literature, and after graduation find a job, get married, and have children. In that order.
But then in October of 1994 my dad got arrested, which came as a total shock to my mom, brother, and I, and nothing in the world could have prepared me for all of the responsibilities, stresses, or emotional ups and downs that were to come. I ended up leaving CSUF because I wasn’t even attending my classes which led to being placed on academic probation because of my drop in GPA, plus I could no longer afford it, and life became about survival and providing emotional and financial support to my mom and my brother and trying to understand what it was that was happening to our family. We had no moral support from any of our extended family and I pretty much isolated myself from anyone I had known in HS, except for my friends Carol and Gerardo, who stuck around and provided that emotional support to my family and I for years to come. I was still in that go nowhere relationship, which I ended pretty soon after my dad was arrested because it was draining me of more energy that I no longer even had. My dad spent the next fourteen years in jail after having been found guilty for narcotics trafficking and conspiracy. This is the first time I share this in any type of public and open forum, and after all these years it is still difficult sometimes to disclose this to people when I feel that I am ready to share that part of my life.
At the time that my dad was going through his trial, my mom, a cousin that lived with us, and I spent the first two years trying to salvage and keep afloat the travel agency that my dad and two of his brothers had started, but which in the end only my dad and his sister ran. When my dad got arrested his sister and other siblings bailed and so I divided my time between running the travel agency while my mom learned all the ins and outs, and then working in the evenings and weekends at El Torito Grill in Fashion Island as a hostess and then eventually a food server, and also ensuring that my brother who was 16 at the time graduate from HS. Among all the pain and hurt that we were going through though, I did decide to enroll at Orange Coast Community College, and that’s where I spent well over a decade taking classes at random. I was hell bent on continuing school, even though perhaps I should have taken some time off because although I longed to attend classes and do as well as I had always done from K – 12, I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe deep down inside though I knew that if I stopped I would not go back. The drawback though is that because of all the other stressors and distractions, I wasn’t fully committed to school, and so I spent many semesters withdrawing from courses or flat out not passing them and collecting a nasty repertoire of F’s. I wasn’t quite sure how I ended up in that pattern, me, the honors high school student. Then I went through a long period where I had no idea what I wanted to do or which direction to go in so I was taking countless classes that I just found interesting, without any real direction. I had no mentor to guide me along and the only one encouraging me was my mom. She kept telling me to follow my dream, and to make sure I had something to fall back on, especially given what we were going through with my dad’s situation. When I finally got serious and thinking hey this is something I do want to complete and it’s a goal I want to achieve, to leave Orange Coast Community College and transfer back to Cal State University Fullerton, I spoke with a counselor and we found I had developed quite a pattern for Sociology courses and just needed a few more classes to earn my AA and transfer to the university, but I also had a bit of cleaning up to do, which meant retaking some of those classes I had gotten an F in during my earlier community college years. That was no fun, but I did it, and finally applied to both CSULB and CSUF, and was accepted again to CSUF in 2010. I was absolutely ecstatic that summer because I had finally achieved it, I had gotten my AA and I was going back to CSUF to finish what I had started. Or so I thought.
I was back to doing everything meticulously by the book when it came to school and so I made sure to have all my orientation dates in order and go by my checklist to ensure I didn’t forget anything prior to starting my first semester at CSUF again. It was probably sometime in early August 2010 just a few weeks before the Fall Semester started and the last thing on my list was to see one of the college advisors and get my student ID. I wanted to see an advisor because I wanted to have a clear list of the classes I needed to take in order to graduate and earn my Bachelors Degree in Sociology. As my advisor was reviewing my transcripts from OCC and pulling up my student record something caught her eye and she kept reviewing my paperwork and then told me that they had overlooked somehow that I had previously attended CSUF in the Fall of 1993 and Spring/Fall of 1994 and unfortunately my academic probation had not been cleared and therefore they were showing a GPA below 2.0 for me already at CSUF and that in order to be accepted to the university I needed to have a minimum 2.0 GPA. I was stunned. I couldn’t quite process in those few moments what she was telling me and what was happening. I was just stunned. When I finally did open my mouth I remember I asked her but what about the fact that my GPA from OCC was so high. She told me unfortunately there was nothing they could do, even though I had an outstanding GPA from OCC, they still had in their system the low GPA from 1993/94 at CSUF and until that went up to a minimum 2.0 they would need to rescind my admittance to CSUF.
I was devastated. I called my mom in tears and then once I recovered from the initial shock I went into action mode. I couldn’t just accept that decision without trying every avenue possible to see if there was any way they could allow me to continue to attend CSUF. I didn’t want them to erase my prior records, but at least be given a chance to still enroll and demonstrate what an excellent student I had become and that I could easily improve my CSUF GPA record from 17 years prior. I was very ballsy and determined and wrote the Dean of Sociology, the Vice President of CSUF, and even the President of CSUF explaining in detail what had occurred in my life in 1993/94 and what I had been doing since then to correct my earlier errors and continue on my path toward achieving my academic goals. Unfortunately though there was nothing they could do, it was all a matter of numbers, and I was told all I could do was enroll as a continuing education student (which of course is more expensive and has a cap of two classes per semester) and petition two courses (preferably ones I had failed 17 years ago) and pass them with the best grade possible in order to eliminate the prior F’s I had. If I did manage to pass the classes, I could try reapplying for the Fall 2011. And so I did manage to secure two classes and then about 1 month into the semester, the craziest thing happened!
I received an email from CSULB. They had actually not accepted me the Fall of 2010 because my major was impacted but in the email it said that due to added finances, they were able to accept more students, and if I was interested I would be able to attend in the Spring of 2011. What?! Wow. I have to admit though I was a bit hesitant because for the past 17 years my heart and mind had been set on going back to CSUF, I had never in my wildest dreams even considered CSU-Long Beach as an option. But really at this point I thought, take what you can. So I devised a great plan in my mind…I could go to CSULB just for the Spring 2011, and then since I was fully confident I would pass my two continuing education courses at CSUF that Fall 2010 to up my GPA, I could reapply as they’d suggested, and then get back into CSUF in the Fall 2011 and I would still be on my path to graduating from CSUF just as I had been dreaming/planning for the past 17 years. Ah but, Yep, you got it, God always has a surprise and better plan. Truly.
My husband went with me to my orientation at CSULB and gosh darn it I got quite the surprise. I instantly loved the campus and I felt like I was home. I had never felt that at CSUF. I remembered thinking, God, what are you doing to me?! And so I did go on to get two A’s in my continuing education classes at CSUF that Fall 2010, and I reapplied to CSUF for Fall 2011 and got accepted…but I knew before even finishing my first semester at CSULB in the Spring of 2011 that I was there to stay, I was home. And I had a new plan. I was married and planning to have a family with my husband, and found out around early February of Spring 2011 that all I would need to graduate would be 2 more full time semesters at CSULB. But remember that thing about me and planning? God always has a greater thing in mind, even if it’s not always the easiest path or the one we had laid out. Just as I found out I only needed 9 more classes to graduate once I completed my first semester, we found out I was pregnant!!!
I found out I could take an educational leave and that I would not lose my enrollment status at CSULB, and so I decided to take two semesters off in order to be able to enjoy my daughter the first year as well as the changes of motherhood, and then I started my classes again the Fall of 2012. This last year at CSULB has been one of the toughest and most challenging of my educational career, because aside from wanting to do my best in school, I was also balancing my time as a mother, wife, and daughter, and on top of it I made a huge career change in August of this year. Finding time to study and still be a good mother, wife, daughter, and so many other roles was challenging at times, and this last semester was by far the toughest one, filled with many happy moments and also many moments of tears and feeling overwhelmed and wondering if I would be able to finish. There were times where I would sob alone in our living room and pray to God to help me and to give me the strength to be able to continue on because this dream of mine was something so important to me, and that while I knew it wasn’t easy on my loved ones, I wanted with all my heart to achieve it.
And hear I am now, after 20 years since being that young and hopeful 18 year old graduating from HS, able to proudly say I am an Alumni of California State University Long Beach!!
I finished my undergraduate studies on December 17th and God willing I will walk among my friends on May 21, 2014.