When Aurora Ceja graduated from Sierra High School in Manteca, she decided to put her college plans on hold because her mother was pregnant, and she wanted to help her mom with her new baby brother.
But Ceja always loved learning and enrolled at Stanislaus State, starting classes a year after her high school peers. Now, the senior sociology major is planning to extend her education, having become a member of the latest cohort of McNair Scholars.
“I’m going to graduate soon. I wanted to do something else,” Ceja said. “I was always interested in having a master’s degree. I want to continue learning. I like learning about things I didn’t know before, experiencing new things.”
Becoming a big sister to a baby was one new experience. She and her brother, Jesus, two years younger and a student in computer science at Stan State, were suddenly joined by an infant.
“It was crazy,” Ceja said. “My brother and I were adults. You put more effort into things with him around.”
Spending a year with the baby and her mom made Ceja a bit nervous about enrolling at Stan State.
“It was a complete year of not going to school. I was a little anxious,” Ceja said. “Did I forget everything I was taught in high school? That’s what I was anxious about. When you think of college you think you’re supposed to come right out of high school. I was older than everybody else. I thought, ‘are they going to look down on me because I’m older?’ I kind of got over the age thing. It doesn’t matter what age you are. We’re all here to learn.”
She admits to expecting to hear bells ring to end class on her first day of college, and the first time she showed up for an exam she hadn’t bought a ScanTron. Fortunately for her, a classmate had an extra one.
It wasn’t that Ceja wasn’t prepared to be in college.
“I always knew I wanted to attend college. I didn’t know where or what I was going to do, but when I got back to it, I really enjoyed coming back and learning. I was missing coming to school because the majority of my life was school.”
She began with a love of English and history, but classes at Stan State led her to sociology with a minor in ethnic studies. The former discipline included a class of all women discussing beauty standards and the latter taught her about the bracero program.
The real joy for Ceja was learning, which makes her think about becoming a college professor.
“I love being in the classroom. I love learning. It’s something I’m comfortable in,” she said.
Spending a year away from academics only reinforced that.
“I might have lost my love of school in high school a little bit,” Ceja said. “I was a bit overwhelmed. The year I took off I thought maybe I do want to continue. I want to be in school, to be in a classroom. I need to be in school.”
The idea of obtaining a master’s or even a doctorate prompted her to apply for the McNair Scholars Program.
“It’s a chance to become more,” Ceja said. “It’s something I have a chance to do and I might as well take that chance.”