Monday, April 20, 2009

From Migrant Family to College Graduate

Maria Luz Navarrete is one of a kind. Just ask her family. The 53-year-old is about to graduate with an associate degree in general education from Rio Salado College. That is a remarkable feat in itself for someone who first began her college career 25 years ago. What is more remarkable is that Navarrete is an unlikely student, having been born into a migrant family.

“My father didn’t have one day of education, and my mother only went to the 2nd grade,” said Navarrete, the fifth child of six siblings. “But their expectation of attending and finishing school was of the utmost importance. My parents didn’t want us to continue the lifestyle we were born into.”

A few years ago, at a family reunion, one of Navarrete’s cousins commented on the low number of grandchildren in Navarrete’s family.

“Our cotton picking days are over,” replied Navarrete. “Plus, there are machines doing that now.”

Thanks to her upbringing, Navarrete knew that education was a must in her quest for a better life. She began taking community college classes in the 1980s, but was forced to drop out due to working full-time, raising two daughters as a single mother and caring for her ailing father.

Despite these challenges, Navarrete was determined to fulfill her dream.

“The main reason I returned to school was to finish something that I had desired for many years,” said Navarrete, who has worked in the Mesa school district for 28 years, most recently as a liaison in the Migrant Child Education Program.

“We broke the cycle that would’ve kept us from searching for and reaching a better life,” she said.

Navarrete chose to continue her education at Rio Salado College because it offered flexibility, mixed-media classes and supportive academic advising.

“My academic advisor Jacqueline Beale listened to me whenever I called her with any concerns, worries or uncertainties,” Navarrete said. “She would remind me of how much I’ve gone through to get to this point, and how it would feel to reach my goals.”

Navarrete won’t be the family’s only graduate this May. Her youngest daughter Estrella is getting a degree from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

“My plan is to have a double graduation party,” said Navarrete. “Now that I’ve fulfilled my goal of obtaining my associate degree, I’ve proven to myself that I could do it. I made good grades, supported my daughter and worked a full-time job. My social life took a back seat for many months, but it was worth it!”