Cuesta College sees diverse group graduate this year

Cuesta College will see 691 students ranging in age from 16 to 65 years old at its 45th commencement ceremony today.

The graduates include three sets of siblings, one husband-and-wife pair, and two sets of mothers and daughters.

Here’s a look at three of this year’s graduates:

Single father from Paso

Juan Medina, 35, of Paso Robles wanted to learn more about computers.

“I didn’t know anything about them — I didn’t even know how to drag and drop,” said he said. That was four years ago. Today, he’ll receive two associate’s degrees — one in general education and another in business management.

Medina, a single father to his 13-year-old daughter Q, also works part-time at the bookstore at Cuesta College’s North County campus.

Prior to that, he worked with his mom doing janitorial work cleaning apartments and relied on the CalWorks program for financial help while getting started in school.

Cuesta staff at the Extended Opportunities and Services Program encouraged him to set an academic goal and take diversified classes that would lead to a degree, he said.

“I’m glad I listened,” Medina said. “I also have to thank my daughter for making it as far as I have. She is the one who had to give up time with Daddy for four years.”

Medina said it was hard at times to put his daughter’s needs aside while he studied, but he’s glad that he did.

Medina said he hopes to start a business doing light shows for special events.

Dropout no longer

Amy Perez, 33, of Pismo Beach dropped out of high school when she was a sophomore and has lived on her own since she was 14 years old.

Years passed as she worked part-time and raised her daughter, Rochelle, and son, Jordan. She had tried to go back to school but it didn’t work out.

Perez enrolled in Cuesta College three years ago, hoping for a fresh start. She wanted to enroll in the college’s nursing program but because of a long waiting list, decided to pursue an associate’s degree in general education instead.

“I wanted to broaden my skills and get more education,” said Perez.

Today she graduates with a 3.2 G.P.A. and works part time at Extended Opportunities and Services Program at the San Luis Obispo campus.

Perez plans to continue taking classes, eventually pursuing a nursing or psychology degree.

“It was a struggle, but you have to find the strength within yourself and desire to go and make it through,” Perez said.

Perez, who said she came from a family where ‘education wasn’t stressed,’ said she has taught her children different.

“Going to school is not optional,” Perez said.

A graduate at 16

Haleigh Hayes, 16, of Templeton is the youngest Cuesta graduate this year. She attended Templeton High School for a year before enrolling in the school district’s independent study program.

“I applied to Cuesta because I wanted to try it and my parents said I could,” said Hayes, who lives at home with Lynn and Janice Hayes.

Two years later Hayes is graduating with an associate’s degree in general education.

“It was kind of scary at first, but after my first class I was OK,” Hayes said, who attended most classes at the North County campus.

She’ll walk in today’s graduation ceremony — joking that her parents want the photo opportunity.

Hayes plans to pursue a degree in science, possibly genetics research.

“Anywhere that I can wear jeans and tennis shoes sounds good,” Hayes said.

She plans to take a few classes at Cuesta next year and then transfer to a four-year college.

“It is a lot cheaper for me to figure out exactly what I want to do at Cuesta,” Hayes said, adding that she encourages other students her age to give it a try. “It worked for me, it might work them too.”

Today’s Graduation at Cuesta College

The general commencement ceremony begins at 5 p.m. at the Cuesta College Gymnasium, San Luis Obispo campus. Graduates of the registered nursing program will be honored at a celebration ceremony from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. today in the gym. Graduates of the vocational nursing program will also be recognized at a celebration ceremony on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.