June 4, 2004

From Homeless to College Graduate

1,300 Receive Diplomas during SWC’s 43rd Annual Commencement

CHULA VISTA—In 1994, Debbie Barry, now 44, lost everything. She got divorced, lost custody of her children and subsequently her job. She ended up on the street.

“I lost the desire to live. I quit everything,” said Barry, an Arizona native who arrived in San Diego in 1985. “It was a real bad hardship. I was depressed. It’s still difficult to talk about it.”

For five years, she roamed the streets of Chula Vista and the Otay River bottom. She learned, she says, how to survive.

“I am not glad it happened but I learned from it,” said the mother of two teenage daughters, who live in Chicago.

Bored and tired of living in the dirt, she enrolled at Southwestern College in the spring of 2000. She wanted to take a computer class to try to get a job and ended up liking the college so much, she enrolled in additional courses.

“I had heard nothing but good things about it, so I gave it a try,” said Barry who now lives in a motor home in Chula Vista. “I knew that if I could survive the streets, I could survive the classroom. It’s been great,” she said.

On May 28, Barry received her Associate of Arts degree in Anthropology together with hundreds of other SWC graduates. Among them was Virginia Rubio, 54, whose story is as inspiring.

Rubio, a single mother of four, was a cosmetologist for more than two decades before deciding to pursue her passion: working with children. In 1997, at the urging of her oldest daughter she began to take some child development courses, one at a time, in the evening and on weekends. She needed them to get a job at a day care center.

“I always wanted to work with children but I knew I needed to go back to school,” said Rubio, who says her early education experience was not a pleasant one. “My middle school teacher used to embarrass me. It made me not want to go to school,” explained Rubio, who ended in special education classes in high school and never received her diploma.

“When I went to my first class at Southwestern College, I cried as if I was in kindergarten. I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I thought I was too old to be in school,” said Rubio, a National City resident.

Over time her two daughters graduated from SWC and soon her two sons, Rueben and Raymundo, joined her. On Friday, they received their Associate of Arts degree together; Rubio in Preschool Teacher Training and her two sons in Psychology.

“I did not think I was going to make it, but I kept going because of my children. I always told them they had to go to school. Besides, I soon found out that it was not as hard as I thought it was going to be,” added Rubio, who works at the day care center for Association House of San Diego. “I could not quit because I always told them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it too.’”

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