Beyond High School: Tips from college graduates who took the scenic route

A young man, wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans, walks down a path toward campus, the Denver skyline looming in the background.
11:35 a.m.: Luis Hernandez walks to class on campus at Metropolitan State University of Denver for his afternoon class on November 11, 2021. He’s gotten support through the college process through the Pathways to Possible program for underserved students. He wouldn’t have gone to college, he thinks, if it weren’t for the program. (Eli Imadali for Chalkbeat)

This story first appeared in Beyond High School, a free monthly newsletter all about life after graduation in Colorado. Want news like this in your inbox every month? Subscribe below.

It’s what you can’t predict that makes the path to graduation difficult.

Just ask Diane Sanchez, 26, who dropped out of Colorado State University for financial reasons. She then had a daughter and decided to put her dreams on hold to care of her family.

Diane Sanchez (University of Colorado Denver)

She was crushed. She wanted to graduate to fulfill her immigrant parents’ dream for their kids. But she said she made the right decision.

Two years ago, she went back to school online at the University of Colorado Denver. There she met a professor who mentored, encouraged, and supported her. She began to believe in herself, and she graduated this month with a bachelor’s in human development and family relations.

She now plans to enroll in graduate school. One day, she hopes to become a social worker helping other immigrant families.

“We have to be an example,” Sanchez said. “For me, it would be for the Latino community, for my siblings, and for my 4-year-old daughter.”

James Dolores remembered feeling lost when he started college. He was figuring out his identity, working full time, and trying to navigate college as the first in his family to go.

James Dolores (University of Colorado Denver)

“I changed majors three times — I think it was four,” he said. “And then I finally just realized, I’m wasting money.”

Dolores, 30, needed to pause. After dropping out, he worked a hotel job and eventually taught ballroom dancing — which made him realize his real passion was teaching.

Almost a decade later in 2021, he graduated from CU Denver with a degree in Spanish. And this month, he graduated a second time at CU Denver with a masters in teaching. He works at North High School in Denver.

The pause gave him perspective, he said. And he wants others to know that getting to graduation, no matter how long it takes, is worth the journey.

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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