Benilde Garcia remembers sitting on the bleachers at her high school graduation watching, through tears, a few hundred of her classmates walk across the stage in their caps and gowns, wishing she could be up there with them.
During her junior year of high school she got pregnant and gave birth to a boy. Despite plans to stay in school, her son was born with health issues that required her full attention. She dropped out a semester before graduation and gave up her full-ride college scholarship.
She later earned her GED and began taking classes at Yavapai College, but each time she tried to work toward a college degree, something happened that left her having to choose between her children and her education. The decision to keep putting her education on hold was easy—family always comes first.
Then in 2013, she was passed up for a job simply because she didn’t have a college degree. By then, her son had graduated from Northern Arizona University and her daughter was almost done with high school. It was time to give it another go.
“NAU had exactly what I needed: a hybrid program in applied human behavior that fit perfectly with my work schedule,” Garcia said. “To sweeten the deal, I knew one of the on-site administrators, Nancy Jensen, from working with her in the past. She was instrumental in inspiring me to enroll.”
Following in the footsteps of her oldest son, Garcia registered for classes at NAU’s Prescott Valley campus. Determined to finally earn a degree, she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way. Then, life threw her some curveballs.
Within a 30-day period, her home was burglarized, she lost a job that she loved and was forced to move.
“Going to class at NAU with instructors and classmates that I had grown to love and immersing myself in quality and relevant coursework grounded me and strengthened my resolve to continue on.”
This time, though, her education was the top priority, and she persevered.
“Beni Garcia is a natural student, she just didn’t know it,” said Jensen, associate director of the Yavapai Masters of Public Administration program. “With encouragement, I have seen Beni grow as a person and as a professional. For many years, she was unable to fully advance at work because she did not have a bachelor’s degree. Now that she’ll have a bachelor’s degree in hand, Beni will excel in her chosen career of serving children and families, and with encouragement, seek her master’s degree too!”
Garcia, who graduates summa cum laude Saturday morning, already has several job opportunities—opportunities she said would have been out of reach without a degree. She hopes to earn a master’s degree and encourage and empower all people, especially children and families, to recognize the resiliency, hope and healing that is living inside them.
“I wasn’t sure I could do this, but it’s finally my turn to walk across the stage,” Garcia said. “Somebody pinch me.”
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
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