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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Graduate Overcomes Childhood Names

May 15, 2014

“Growing up I was called ‘stupid’, even by my family,” says Debra White, who recently graduated from the Medical Office certificate program in Hanford. “Family was very difficult, and it affected me in my early life.”

After an insufficiently supportive family life in her youth, Debra made it her mission to prove the naysayers wrong, to prove her intelligence and self-worth. There would be trials along the way, but Debra was not one to give up.

High school was a little easier for Debra, and she found herself making mostly As and Bs in her classes. But, her self-worth still heard the echo of those hurtful words. She became pregnant at 17, and gave birth to Betsy three months before she graduated.

The chapters of Debra’s life began to flip forward and she found herself married to Danny, a Navy man, living in a series of Navy bases, adding two more children to their family, and making a little extra money cleaning houses on the bases at which they were stationed.

After six years Debra and Danny divorced and Debra moved back to her hometown of Lemoore. It was twenty years later that she and Danny reconnected and decided to remarry. All was well until October, 2012 when Danny lost his job. His Navy pension was not enough to live on, so Debra did the thing she thought she would never have to do: go back to school.

Though the financial stress weighed heavily, Debra was also a little excited. “I really wanted to get into medical coding; that was the ultimate job I wanted,” she says.

Still, those old whispers of inadequacy persisted. Could she find it in herself to get through it; to do well?

“I was so nervous about taking my first final in my first mod – and it was an algebra class!” says Debra, who had a troubled history with anything mathematical. “Mr. Atchley called us up there one by one, and he told me I got a B. I was so excited about that.”

She never slowed down after that. Throughout her Medical Office program Debra excelled, ending up with a 3.89 GPA and perfect attendance.

Instructor Patricia Bishop sums up Debra’s efforts: “Debra was hardworking, helpful and determined. She faced numerous challenges while attending SJVC. Her family was experiencing some real struggles, but she made sure to have her work done. She always remained poised and professional, and was an excellent role model for the other students.”

At the start of Debra’s externship tragedy struck. Danny was rushed to the ER with complications from a stomach ulcer. “He almost died on the operating table,” says Debra. “He was in an induced coma, then ICU before he finally came home.”

Debra took a month leave of absence from her MO program to be home with Danny during his initial crisis and recovery.

A few weeks later, at age 59, Debra finally made that long walk across the stage at graduation.  She wore the special colors of achievement, a Perfect Attendance pin and heard words of praise from her favorite teacher, Mrs. Bishop.

“Danny (video) recorded my walk across the stage and her speech,” says Debra. “I felt pretty special and proud of myself. It was the financial need and to prove to my family that I wasn’t stupid that inspired me to keep going.”

Debra’s two sisters and her two best friends, Jan and Teresa, also attended her graduation. “My sisters have said that they are very proud of me for accomplishing this.”

Teresa, also a MO student, was often Debra’s study buddy. “We were support for each other, and I thank her for that. We used to tease each other and she’d say that when I finished school first, that half of her brain wouldn’t be there with her at school,” Debra laughs.

A few weeks have passed since that momentous occasion and Debra is working hard at finding the right job. “I am looking online and apply for different types of jobs,” she says. “Career Services send out my resume too and are helping a lot.”

Debra is not a sit-and-wait kind of person.

“I’m thinking about going to my extern site and volunteering to help them with their records piling up,” she says.

Now that’s a very intelligent move.

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