CSUN graduates overcome challenges to earn diplomas

first_imgNORTHRIDGE – Some 9,200 students will be graduating this week from California State University, Northridge, in ceremonies marked by pageantry and tradition, excitement and joy. And each of the graduates encountered roadblocks, overcame challenges, achieved goals. Amid the sea of caps and gowns are individual stories of the triumph of the human spirit over unexpected adversity and challenges. Here is a glimpse of some of them: Carlos Moran vividly recalls being in junior high, when he decided to turn away from a life of gangs and drugs and toward a future in which he could make something of himself. In addition to his siblings, Moran wanted to make a difference in the lives of other young kids who came from similarly troubled backgrounds, and he has been working at the Rancho San Antonio group home for five years as a mentor and tutor to troubled teenage boys. “He is an inspiration. The kids love him and see him as a role model,” said Adrienne Koroshec, a program coordinator at Rancho San Antonio. “He doesn’t get paid a whole lot to be here. He truly cares about the future of the boys.” His brothers and sister are definitely coming to see him in his cap and gown accepting his diploma this week. “They’re really excited,” Moran said. “I feel proud, but more of them, because they’re thinking about college and want to go; they’re doing well in school. “I feel like I did a good job.” Chris Vergien spent his adult life stationed at far-flung Air Force bases in South Korea, Japan and Afghanistan. But it’s the last three years spent at CSUN that the budding physicist considers the most challenging time of his life. Unlike the typical college student who takes at least four years to graduate, Vergien had to map out a college career that would span just three years. “I thought working was hard, but trying to balance schoolwork, military requirements and family was the hardest thing of my life,” said Vergien, 31, of Topanga Canyon, who is graduating second in his class with a bachelor’s degree in physics. “It was countless nights of very little sleep, working all day some Saturdays on one or two physics problems and having to take summer classes, too. “But it’s exciting to know I finished it. I never expected to become a physicist in the Air Force.” Vergien’s graduation isn’t the only thing he’s celebrating. He and his wife welcomed a son into their family on May 22 – just as they were packing to move to Albuquerque, N.M. where Vergien will work as a scientist in the space division at Kirtland Air Force Base. And with his diploma almost in hand, Vergien is already looking ahead to earning his master’s and doctorate degrees. “I never know where I’m going to be and where I’m going to go and what’s in front of me,” Vergien said. “But I’m excited to find out.” Carol Higgins’ idyllic life was shattered in 1998 when her husband died of a heart attack, leaving her to raise their 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. Just 35, she struggled for two years with the drastic changes in her life, while the rest of the world moved on around her. In 2000, she decided to get her life back on track and resume her college career, which had been interrupted when she married at age 19 and began her family. Higgins attended community college for two years, then enrolled at CSUN, where she is graduating with honors with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts. “I went to school because I wanted to be able to know I could get a job someplace, but it was really a place for me to just recompose, reinvent, restart a new life and really do something I’ve always dreamed of doing, which is performing, being in theater, acting, singing and writing,” said Higgins, now 43. “It was almost like therapy for me, a place to get lost in philosophy, in theater, in the arts, in music, in acting, and it helped me in so many ways.” Higgins said her parents – and creative scheduling – helped her balance the responsibilities of raising her children, running a household and attending college. While her son played roller hockey and ice hockey at 4 a.m., she’d use the time to study. When her daughter was in a dance class, she’d be doing homework in the car. In fact, the adversity brought out a woman Higgins didn’t know was there. “I always think if Mike came back today, he would not recognize me. He would not know this new woman,” she said. “I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.” The tragedy brought her family closer together, and 15-year-old Chelsey said watching her mom persevere has been inspiring. “She’s my role model and I want to be just like her,” Chelsey said. “She showed us to never give up and that you can always conquer anything you put your mind to even if there are obstacles in the way.” Now, the Santa Clarita Valley resident says she’s working with a couple of people to start a theater company. One of her biggest goals is to work in television and film, and eventually she wants to go back to school to get her master’s degree in writing and directing. “I’m a big believer today, after my experience, that there is always a mystery in everyone’s life and I’m waiting for it to be revealed,” Higgins said. “There is a femme fatale in me and I’m telling you, she’s got to come out.” [email protected] (818) 713-3721160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The decision came when he saw his younger siblings emulating his behavior – fighting, cutting class, getting bad grades. Now 23, Moran is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Chicano studies and child and adolescent development, as well as a minor in psychology. He now plans to work toward a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. “The turning point was when I saw my younger brothers reflect my actions. That was a reality check that we shouldn’t keep this cycle going. We had to break it,” said Moran, who lives in Northridge. Moran entered foster care at age 11 in Paso Robles. Without parents or an extended family, Moran said the hardest part of being in the foster care system was making sure he stayed in touch with his sister and three brothers. “That’s been the main reason why I’ve attained higher education and will continue it, because I knew that being in the foster care system wouldn’t be anything positive for them. I was the only real positive role model they had,” Moran said. “By me setting an example, I would hope they’d follow in my steps.” last_img

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