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Maribel Guzman, 16 years old and a new mother, dropped out of high school her junior year.

As the years passed, she thought about returning to school but "never saw the opportunity."

But in her mid-30s, with one son a high school junior and the other a freshman, she found that she had waited long enough.

"I stared at my kids, now teens, and I thought to myself, 'How can I preach to my boys the importance of college when I myself didn't even finish high school?' " she said. "I had to do something to change that, not only to set an example to them, but also to do it for myself."

Guzman enrolled in continuing education classes at Eastfield and completed her GED in summer 2017.

"Something in me sparked," she said, "a feeling that gave me confidence, gave me courage like I had not had before. A feeling letting myself know that if I could do this, I could also continue with my education and it wouldn't be as horrifying as I thought it would be."

For years, Guzman said, she refrained from giving opinions or participating in conversations, fearing judgment of her education level. But now she felt emboldened.

Guzman started work on an Associate of Science degree in fall 2017. She has a 4.0 grade-point average and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. She plans to earn a bachelor's degree in health administration.

Judith Dumont, executive dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education, said Guzman is a true success story.

"From not having a GED to being in Phi Theta Kappa a year later is quite extraordinary," she said.

Guzman was the commencement speaker at the June 15 graduation of 170 students who completed workforce training and community education programs at Eastfield.

She encouraged the graduates to keep striving toward their goals.

"Whatever your motivation or inspiration is, whether is to get a better job, a step to starting college and getting a degree, or just to let yourself know that you have finished your GED and, in the future, you are ready for something better know this: The hardest part is to start, and you already did," she said.

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Photos by Angelica Peterson