Early Childhood Education Students

Graduation Speaker Tells Her Story

Good evening everyone.  It’s hard for me to stand here and look out into the crowd, for I never thought I would reach this point, or that I would be speaking at my own graduation.  My name is Maricela Gonzalez and I would like to tell you about myself.

Like many Hispanic families, my parents came to the US for a better life for themselves and their children.  I was born in California in 1970 and am the youngest of 12 children.  My parents were very supportive and encouraging when it came time for us to go to school.  I attended elementary school in California and finished middle school in Mexico.  Right after graduating I got married at age 16 and returned to the US with my husband where we started our family here in Oregon.
I started working in 1992 for Oregon Child Development Coalition in Milton-Freewater and never imagined that my place of work would give me the opportunity to go to college to get my associates degree.  Since I didn’t finished high school I had to start from the bottom.  I was weary at first; I had three kids to take care of and couldn’t spare time to go to school.  Slowly but surely I attended some classes at Walla Walla Community College and received my GED.  I then transferred to Blue Mountain Community College and enrolled in evening classes to obtain my degree in Early Childhood Education. At the rate I was going it seemed like it would take an eternity to reach my goal and by now I had four children.  It was frustrating at time because I would see my coworkers and friends graduating and I was still trying to accumulate credits.  In the end, my friend’s success gave me the determination I needed to hurry up and achieve my last credits.  Achieving this was very important to me because I wanted to inspire my friends, the way my friends had inspired me, by achieving their goals and graduating. 
Without the love and support of people around you, such as your family and friends, things can seem impossible, but thanks to all of them I am standing here.  I would like to thank OCDC for giving me the opportunity to go to college.  They not only accommodated my schedule, they also paid my tuition, which gave me more incentive to go to school.  To my husband and children, thank you for your support and encouragement.  Without your help it would have been a lot harder.  I would also like to thank my parents, even though they are not here, for having the courage to come to America to give us an opportunity for a better life.  Finally to my instructors, you made learning adventuresome and fun.  Today not only have I obtained a degree that will help me be a better teaching assistant, I have also set an example for my children to follow. 
(Maricela Gonzalez works with the 5-year old class at OCDC in Milton-Freewater.  Her sons are 14, 10, 5, and 2 1/2.  The older boys are active in baseball, soccer, wrestling and basketball.  Maricela intends to start working toward a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education when her youngest son is older.)

The First or Final Step

For some of us this is the final step in our educational goals, but for the rest of us, this is only the first step in what will be a short, but long journey to meet our educational goals. No matter which it is for you, it is a milestone set, not just in your life, but in the lives of who you will touch along your journey, as well.

Today, I graduate with a degree in Early Childhood. This is a great accomplishment for me, because a short five years ago, I lived a life full of alcohol; a life where it seemed that no one, including myself, believed that I would ever amount to anything. Today, I am just over 6 years sober and can celebrate my new life and my education!

The goals I set are not just for me, they are also for my 10 –year- old son, Nathaneal , who means the world to me. I went out and pursued a college education and achieved one. I know in my heart and pray that someday he will do the same.

I also hope that my fellow peers who are also my age, as well as the youth of my community, will look at me and say, “if he can do it, why don’t I give it a shot!?”. Five years ago I was the last person who thought I would be accepting a college degree especially in Early Childhood. Today I have learned that anything is attainable and possible, with commitment and hard work.

I am thankful for the support of my community. The people in my life did not give up on me; they encouraged me to move on. I am a recipient of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation scholarship. Although, limited, the scholarship helped me fund my degree at Blue Mountain Community College.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in me. In return, I admire them. They motivated me to be successful and to become the best I can be.

My most significant inspirations are the children. At Head Start, I work with 3, 4 and 5 -year -old children. These children inspired me and without them I may have not been here today. It was through these kids, that I once again realized how meaningful life is. It is through their laughter that I again appreciated how much fun life is. Their innocence showed me that it is ok to be yourself. Their tears showed me that it was ok to fall and get hurt, to get back up brush yourself off and keep moving forward.

So for those of you where this is the final stop, I would like to congratulate you on your accomplishments and to encourage you to someday keep moving forward with your education. For those of you who have already decided to keep going, I congratulate you as well and wish each and every one of you the best of luck. And for those who are considering taking that first step towards achieving your academic goals and life dreams, I encourage you to take it. You will never know if you can do it if you do not try.

I wish all of us good luck and kachi-yaw-yaw. Thank you.


Meet Cathleen McGee

I began my educational journey at age thirty-five when I decided to study for my GED at BMCC. I did not receive my high school diploma because I was in and out of foster homes my early teen years then began living on my own at age 15.  I went through the ninth grade before dropping out. I was abusing drugs and bouncing from place to place  until I met and married my husband in 1988.

Through the years, my self-esteem developed enough that I began believing I could pass the GED tests so I went to the Milton-Freewater campus to take the classes. With each test I passed, my confidence grew until I found myself as a serious, successful student.
I received my GED in 1996. My sons were six and seven years old. In 2000, I began working on my A.A.S. in Early Childhood Education. As a forty year old student, I was nervous about being the only “old” student there. I was surprised to discover that many people my age and older attended B.M.C.C. 
With support and encouragement from many of the staff at B.M.C.C, I received my degree in 2004 with High Honors. I was hired by Umatilla County Head Start three weeks after I graduated. At 43 I began my dream job, working with families and teaching young children! I am currently in my sixth year as a preschool teacher and am loving every minute of it. 
I am a student once again. I am taking classes from Portland State University. I hope to have my Bachelor’s degree in Social Science with a minor in ECE by Spring of 2012. I will be 53 years old!
I call myself a “Late Bloomer.” My motto is and has been throughout my educational journey: “Better Late Than Never!”