For Pierce College Puyallup students Jeremy Cruz and Kaitlyn Thorley, the road to finishing their associate degrees has been far from a smooth ride.
Both have overcome struggles and challenges in their academic careers, but the future now looks bright.
Cruz and Thorley were recently selected to represent Pierce College Puyallup as members of the 2016 All-Washington Academic Team.
Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, introduced the All-USA Academic Team to recognize and honor students for their academic achievements and community service efforts.
Cruz is a first generation college student. His parents didn’t finish high school, so when the 25-year-old graduated high school he went straight into the work force. Once Cruz met his wife, Andrea, she encouraged and inspired him to enroll in higher education.
“I started to really appreciate education,” he said. “I came into school later than most students, so I had better maturity.”
Paying for school all on his own — and working two jobs — competing in the All-Washington Academic Team provides Cruz with scholarship opportunities he wouldn’t ordinarily have.
“I’m really excited,” Cruz said. “It really means a lot to me since my finances aren’t exactly great.”
Cruz is expected to graduate this spring with his associate degree. After graduating, Cruz plans on transferring to a four-year university to pursue computer engineering.
For Thorley, who has spent the last couple years in the foster care system, earning her associate degree at the same time as her high school diploma hasn’t been easy for the 18-year-old.
She balances two jobs and attends school full time while paying for college all on her own.
“The key is really staying organized,” Thorley said. “I use binders, color coordinate everything, and finish my homework early. While things may seem hard now — especially when I wake up at 4 a.m. — it’s so worth it to work hard and stay organized.”
“I’m going to school to better myself,” she added.
Once Thorley graduates this spring, she will transfer to East Carolina University, where she’ll study hospitality management at the university’s honor college.
Thorley and Cruz will be recognized at a ceremony March 24 at South Puget Sound College, where they will be presented with a medal and meet Gov. Jay Inslee.
Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Pierce College Puyallup, says Pierce students participating in the All-Washington Academic Team is a great thing for the college.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “A lot of these students don’t come from a place of privilege. The odds are really against them, and they’re doing incredible work despite those odds.”
Both Cruz and Thorley see brighter futures for themselves in higher education, Cavalluzzi said.
“It’s nice to recognize people who are doing good things,” he said.