BY Amanda Sotelo
Graduation has been a long time coming for Texas State Technical College student and employee Monica Zuniga, but the journey was not always easy.
The wife and mother of two daughters will be graduating April 29 with her associate degree in Education and Training, a career she said has always been interested in because of her love for children.
“I didn’t think I would ever see the day I would graduate,” said Zuniga. “There have been so many obstacles that have discouraged me, but now I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m so excited.”
The 32-year-old is a 2002 graduate of Harlingen High School, but because her parents were migrant workers, Zuniga would fall behind in school. Adding to the challenge, Zuniga was already living on her own, making work a necessity.
“I was in high school and working a part-time job,” said Zuniga. “College was never encouraged when I was growing up, so I felt my only option after high school was to find a full-time job to support myself.”
Zuniga’s aunts were custodians at TSTC at the time of her high school graduation so they helped her apply, marking the beginning of her TSTC career in 2002. Because this was Zuniga’s first job, she did not have a car to get to work, and she did not always have a ride. Many of her days were spent walking to and from work. It would be 11 years, before Zuniga would realize she could do more with her life.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about being a custodian, but I wanted to be more for myself and for my daughters,” said Zuniga. “It wasn’t always easy though.”
So in 2013, Zuniga applied for the cashier position she currently holds and it opened an entirely new chapter in her life. She enrolled at TSTC as a student, but she describes her college experience as a rollercoaster.
“I had ups and downs and there was always a twist or turn,” said Zuniga. “One of my daughters got very sick and ended up needing three surgeries. I was in and out of class and work; she was my priority. I had to take care of her. It definitely pushed me back though and there were days I felt like just giving up.”
Zuniga credits two of her colleagues for giving her the encouragement to keep going. She said Adela Alaniz, student accounting assistant and Lynda Lopez, executive director of Communications, were always my support.
“They both never let me give up,” said Zuniga. “Sometimes they were brutally honest with me, but that’s what got me through. I didn’t have that support anywhere else, and knowing they believed in me and what I could do meant a lot.”
With the support of Alaniz, Lopez, her husband, daughters and instructors, Zuniga has been able to realize the goal she set for herself, which is becoming a college graduate. She is currently completing her practicum in a third grade classroom at Ben Milam Elementary School in Harlingen to earn the last of the credits she needs before graduation.
“I’ve learned so much during my time at TSTC. The hands-on training I’ve received has prepared me for my career and future,” said Zuniga. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great teacher during my practicum. I’ve gotten great exposure to a classroom environment and have learned so many new techniques.”
Although Zuniga will continue working at TSTC after graduation, she plans on attending one of the universities available to her through TSTC’s University Center to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
“I want current and prospective TSTC students to know that nothing is impossible,” said Zuniga. “TSTC is full of people who are ready to help you succeed if you’re willing to try hard and never give up. If I can do it, so can they.”
Zuniga is one of 392 graduates who will earn certificates and associate degrees at TSTC’s Commencement Ceremony on April 29 at Marine Military Academy’s Yeckel Memorial Auditorium. Ceremonies are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
For more information on Education and Training call 956-364-4747.
Registration is in progress for Summer and Fall 2016. Apply or register anytime at tstc.edu.