Criminal justice major Angela Westley came to GradFest with her two small children and a sense of relief. She approached a table marked for alumni, satisfied to be part of Eastfield’s class of 2022.
After juggling being a full-time mother, employee and college student for three years, Westley is graduating with her associate degree in criminal justice.
“My husband always teased me about it,” Westley said. “He goes, ‘hey, you’ve been in school for as long as we’ve been together.’ I say it’s true, but there’s no rush in doing anything.”
Westley is graduating with a near-perfect GPA. Organizations like Phi Theta Kappa noticed Westley’s success and invited her into the group.
Although the stress of parenting and academics hasn’t wound down for Westley, she’s determined to wrap up her associate degree at Eastfield.
“Online classes definitely made it easy for me,” Westley said. “It gave me the opportunity to be flexible with my schedule.”
Although Westley took the occasional in-person class, she owes her success to online classes, which she always jumps on the opportunity to apply for.
“I honestly prefer online because I’m still holding my children,” Westley said. “I’m able to be a mother and get everything done.”
Outside of Eastfield, Westley tries to be a good wife and mother. “My daughter is motivation and a blessing for me,” Westley said.
Westley was inspired to apply for college after a conversation with her four-year-old daughter. They were looking through photo albums, and her daughter noticed the lack of graduation photos.
With her daughter starting school, Westley wants her achievement to give her daughter more avenues for success.
“I don’t want her to idolize that she has to go to college to be successful,” Westley said.
Although Westley doesn’t disapprove of her daughter going to college, she doesn’t want her children to experience a journey like hers.
The hardest part for Westley was applying for college, having to consider finances and being there for her children.
Another obstacle for Westley was re-entering the swing of education.
“It can be discouraging when you go into that [testing] room and they say, ‘you didn’t pass,’” Westley said. “It was for me.”
Westley hasn’t decided where to continue her education, but she doesn’t plan to slow down.
“Despite what that test may say, keep moving,” Westley said. “Keep going forward.”
Time to unwind
Information technology major Herbeth Cerritos stood in line for the photo booth at GradFest, raring for a chance to photograph himself in a cap and gown.
From cap decoration tables to snack booths, GradFest featured spaces for graduates to celebrate their upcoming graduation. Students like Cerritos waited patiently for the opportunity to memorialize overcoming academic hardship.
“I’m here to celebrate my academic accomplishments from over the years,” Cerritos said. “I’ve been under a lot of stress, and I feel like deserve to relax.”
Cerritos is receiving his associate of applied science. After starting his studies at Eastfield with low grades, Cerritos’ graduation marks the culmination of an academic rebound, a feat he owes to his teachers and fellow students.
“I found great motivation for my classes,” Cerritos said. “Now I’m in love with learning.”
Cerritos initially struggled to find motivation for his studies, frustrated with online classes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Counselors and professors began to check in with Cerritos when his grades declined. They kept encouraging him to stay on top of his classwork.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” Cerritos said. “I was just by myself. I felt like no one cared for me.”
One way Cerritos built motivation was by opting for in-person classes when Eastfield began reopening.
“Whenever I started attending in-person classes, that’s when everything changed for me.” Cerritos said.
Cerritos attended in-person classes because it gave him the opportunity to socialize and do hands-on work. It was easier for him to communicate with his professors as well.
Cerritos grew his social circle, and his peers routinely encouraged him to continue his academic success.
“I got to know many great people,” Cerritos said. “They felt the same way I felt about [college]. They talked about their pandemic stories and a lot of us had similar stories.”
Although Cerritos takes the occasional online class, he enjoys feeling excitement when he walks into Eastfield. It serves as a reminder of how far he’s come.
“It was a tough ride, but I feel like it’s well worth it,” Cerritos said.
A second graduation
Science major Abigail Varghese entered GradFest with wonder in her eyes. She’s joined by her father, Devassy Varghese, who is as equally amazed at The Hive and its celebratory decorations.
Abigail Varghese’s head spun from all the eye-catching sights, her curious gaze scanning the surroundings like she walked into a different world. It’s Abigail’s first time walking into Eastfield, and she’s graduating with an associate of science.
“I wasn’t expecting to get an associate degree,” Abigail Varghese said, beaming a pearly smile. “When I went to see my dual credit counselor, I had one credit left. I just decided to complete it.”
Abigail Varghese is an early college high school student who completed her associate degree without going to college, thanks to dual credit classes. Eastfield served as a jumping point for Abigail to accelerate her progress towards a bachelor’s degree.
“[Dual credit] makes me feel better about going to college because I’ve had a college experience academically,” Abigail Varghese said.
When Abigail Varghese isn’t enjoying free time, she’s already studying for her next test. She credits most of her success to her father’s emphasis on education.
Devassy is involved with his daughter’s education, making sure Abigail Varghese stays on top of her studies, but he credits his daughter’s initiative with their success.
“It’s a great [achievement],” Devassy Varghese said, nodding in approval. “I cannot say anything more than that.”
To juggle high school classwork, college work and test deadlines, Abigail Varghese organizes with a planner.
When Abigail Varghese struggles with classes, she consults her teachers for help and resources.
“I have great teachers,” Abigail Varghese said. “They’ve all been helpful.”
Although Abigail Varghese hasn’t decided where to continue her studies, she looks to the future with optimism.
Having high school teachers who taught at a college level helped Abigail Varghese cultivate enough motivation to advance her education. But no voice is more encouraging than her father’s.
“[Dad] has been helping me out with making decisions and getting my associates,” Abigail Varghese said. “Now he’s motivating me again.”