Note: This article is part of the StanGrad series, highlighting CSU Stanislaus students who will graduate at commencement ceremonies May 29 and 30. Click here for more.
Claudia Ponce grew up in a small village in Mexico. She was 11 years old when her family immigrated to Modesto, and it didn't take her long to realize the deck was stacked against her.
While her parents worked exhausting minimum-wage jobs to maintain the family's modest living conditions, Ponce struggled with an unsupportive teacher and unwelcoming classmates, and her education lagged.
"My parents were always my greatest support system," Ponce said. "They told me life would get better, but I had to help myself before anyone could help me."
Ponce was transferred to bilingual classes and quickly began to pick up the English language. The spark of learning ignited, and before long Ponce was receiving awards, certificates and medals for her academic achievements.
Later this month, she will complete her greatest achievement to date — graduating from CSU Stanislaus with dual bachelor's degrees in Spanish and sociology.
"I am here thanks to the amazing teachers and professors who have taught me so much," Ponce said, "and my parents, who worked so hard just to give me what they could not have."
Ponce has already made a habit of giving back. She's worked with the Ceres Unified School District's Project YES (Youth Employment Services) to help economically disadvantaged youth achieve personal and academic success. And she volunteers at the Center for Human Services' Hutton House in Modesto, a temporary shelter for youth who are in crises, are homeless or have run away.
That spirit will carry into her career, as well. Ponce plans to pursue her Master of Social Work degree at CSU Stanislaus and eventually work in Child Protective Services.
"Like so many people in my life have done, I want to help others who need help," Ponce said. "I want to be able to motivate people and tell them that they, too, can accomplish their dreams. If I can do it, anyone can."
Bachelor of Arts in Spanish; Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (Human Services concentration)
What memories stand out most from your time at CSU Stanislaus?
"I feel that my whole experience here at CSU Stanislaus has been memorable, from the lectures to the lecturers, from the essays to the tests, from the good grades to the not-so-good grades, from the sleepless nights to the A's on my papers. Everything I experienced has taught me so much that I cannot leave anything out. I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given to attend this university."
Which faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you, and why?
"Professor Ann Strahm made a great impact on me, both personally and professionally. She shared her very captivating story to our class, and it was in her class where I first shared my story — who I am and why I am here. She inspired and motivated us to pursue our goals, and she is one of the most approachable professors I have ever encountered. I will forever be grateful to her for making sure I was the best possible me."
What advice would you give to current and future students?
"The best advice I could give is to not be afraid of your professors. This is a great campus that allows us to build a closer relationship with our professors. So talk to them, build a relationship with them and get to know them. You will be surprised how amazing they can be."