June 6, 2003

Southwestern College Awards Diploma to 88 Year-Old

CHULA VISTA—Marcos Altalef loves learning. That’s why eight days after his arrival from Guatemala in 1998, the then 83 year-old immediately enrolled at Southwestern College (SWC). He wanted to improve his English language skills, but soon had another goal in mind: getting a Legal Interpretation and Translation certificate. On Friday, May 30th, Altalef, 88, finally accomplished his goal when he and hundreds of other SWC students received their graduation diplomas during the College’s 42nd Annual Commencement Ceremony.


Dean Irma Alvaraz presents Marcos Altalef, 83, graduation diploma.

“The College is less than a mile from my house. I used to walk to classes,” said Altalef, who now moves around with the aid of a walker. Nonetheless, his desire to continue learning has not waned.

Born and raised in Guatemala, Altalef worked in his family’s textile business since his late teens and when the business closed down 15 years later he went on to work as a Certified Public Accountant for Guatemala’s and Central America’s largest textile company. At age 35 he acquired his CPA degree and 37 years later, he attained a degree as a Spanish/French translator, having mastered his non-native language while in boarding school in Paris. At 76, he graduated from the Univer-sidad del Valle de Guatemala and later taught English at public and private institutions in his native country for several years. Five years, ago he left Guatemala and he and his wife, Alegría, moved to Bonita, California to live with his daughter Sarah. Altalef’s only son, a 27 year-old law school graduate, died in Guatemala the same day of his graduation. His wife passed away recently.

After graduation, Altalef hopes to work as a translator and interpreter. He has already put his new-learned skills to work, having done an English to Spanish legal translation for a client.

“I feel mentally capable,” added Altalef, who spends his spare time writing music, lyrics, and poetry. Now that he has received his interpretation and translation certificate, he plans to study to become a notary public. “My teachers were really the best and my classmates were so kind with me that I am grateful for them…I love learning and will continue to learn until God comes to get me,” said SWC’s oldest graduate.

There are two main reasons why students attend Southwestern College: to prepare for transfer to a four-year college or university and to prepare for a career or job advancement. This year, nearly 600 students will transfer to San Diego State University and more than 400 to other colleges and institutions of higher education.

Marissa Vásquez is one of them. Come this fall, the English major will be attending the University of California Berkeley. She credits her Southwestern College counselors and professors with setting her on the right track by advising her on which classes she should take and the many career opportunities and transfer options available. Thanks to them, said the 19 year-old student, she was able to achieve her goal.

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