Overcoming the odds
KEYSTONE – Colorado Mountain College faculty have seen siblings graduate together. They’ve even seen a few parent-child combinations matriculate.
Friday, however, was the first time any of them could recall watching three women from the same family walk across the commencement stage in mortarboard and gown. Summit campus dean Tim Hoopingarner hinted at the auspicious occasion in his opening remarks in the Keystone Conference Center:
“We’re here not only to celebrate academic achievement, but the successful reconciliation of work, family and personal demands.”
Student services director Dr. Linda Rose explained to the family and friends in the audience why the trio’s accomplishment was even more significant.
“This is a proud day,” Rose said. “These are three ladies who’s first language is not English.”
Royeth Olvera and her daughters, Kikey Jeffries and Yanet Teague, came to Summit County eight years ago from Aguascalientes, Mexico. The women said they spoke no English.
“I could say, “Hi,'” Teague said. “But that was it.”
The women found jobs, and the family grew with marriage and children. But for the women, it was not enough. One year ago, they decided to enroll in CMC’s developmental studies program and pursue their general education development (GED) certificates.
Olvera, now over 50, said her motivation was wanting to learn to speak English. Her daughters wanted to learn the language as well, but also said they knew the GED was the first step they needed to take to pursue a higher education. The basic skills courses challenged each of them in different ways, but the women said they were able to make it through with each other’s support.
“The writing was hardest for me,” Jeffries said. “I could not say things how I wanted to say them in Spanish.”
Her sister agreed: “The essay was difficult,” Teague said. “It not only had to be in English, but it had to make sense and be organized.”
“The hardest part for me was the science,” their mother said. “But you keep pushing through, you keep going. And my daughters helped me.”
Teague said she will continue to study at CMC and plans to take classes in psychology. Jeffries and Olvera said they intend to get business degrees. Developmental studies director Laura Pless said the women overcame many challenges to make it to graduation day and would set an example for the grandchildren in the family. Pless said she hoped their story would inspire others, too.
The women encouraged other Latinos in Summit County to see their story as proof “that it can be done.”
“Many people are afraid because they don’t have papers (legal documents),” Olvera said. “But they don’t have to worry about that – that’s not what the college worries about.”
“It’s possible for them to do it, too,” Jeffries said. “Some think they can’t get past the language, but we thought that, too, sometimes. The teachers can help.”
In addition to the trio, CMC awarded 55 associate’s degrees and certificates.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or
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