In her graduation photo Coty Yamada wears a confident grin and a black robe draped in leis and red and gold sashes. In one arm she cradles a bouquet while the other holds a diploma cover for her degree in social sciences with concentrations in communications, gender studies and psychology.
It is a picture her younger self lost hope of ever seeing, and a moment of elation and empowerment she aims to help other struggling teens achieve when she becomes a high school counselor.
“My educational journey was a rocky one after I graduated from high school,” said Yamada. She gave up on her first foray into higher education after one semester elsewhere and moved back home, attending junior college and working full time for four years.
“I got stuck — unmotivated, frustrated. I changed my major multiple times,” she said. An associate’s degree in hand, she turned to beauty college and earned an esthetician license. “I worked in a spa, with my own business and clientele, and still wasn’t happy. I wanted to do more. That’s when I decided to apply to Stan State.”
Her arrival on campus got a boost from a job as a student assistant in Admissions and Outreach Services. At 24, she said, “I felt out of place at times, since I was the oldest student in the office, but the staff and other students were so welcoming.”
She also found the academic side to be a good fit. “Once classes began, I noticed a different feel on campus than that of the junior college. I felt as if the professors were more approachable, asked more of you and cared for you. I also felt how the students cared so much more about their education, their futures and their time at Stan State,” Yamada said.
“Neither of my parents graduated from college. I thought maybe I’d get my bachelor’s degree. But within my first semester I was already looking into graduate schools all over California,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. Who was this girl, striving for more? I didn’t want to settle with my bachelor’s degree. I wanted to do more, and I wanted to do more for others.”
After years of being a sounding board for the woes of friends and family, she found her niche in counseling. “After spending a ton of time around the counselors in the admissions office, watching how they worked with the students and parents and how happy it made everyone, I realized I wanted to be that person for high school students. I know, from personal experience, that’s when I needed guidance the most,” she said.
“Fast forward two and a half years, and I am moving to start my master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in school counseling at Sonoma State. I wouldn’t be where I am today without going through those two years at Stanislaus,” Yamada said.
A summer studying abroad in Alicante, Spain, enriched her college experience and served as another avenue that expanded her world.
“Not only did my classes teach me so much and my job open my eyes to my passion, but I grew so much as a human being, as a student and as a woman in those two years. I learned a lot about myself. I closed chapters in my story and turned the page to write new ones. My confidence has grown and my goals have increased,” she said.
“I may have been 26 when I graduated, but I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. I’m at the exact place I need to be at this point in my life. I found guidance and lifelong friends in the amazing people at Stan State. I’ll always remember where my life changed for the better.”