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Graduation 2021

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A decade ago, Alyssa Tamboura was paging through social media, lingering over photo after photo of her friends gradu- ating from high school, and later, their new college dorm rooms. Tamboura had all but checked out of school life as a junior and by age 17, she was pregnant and had dropped out completely. Trauma associated with the lengthy incarceration of her Tamboura's father -- begin- ning when she was still in elementary school -- had begun to take a toll on Tamboura's performance, she said. I just was at home with the baby and I deleted my Facebook," Tamboura said during a recent interview with the Sentinel. "It was just so devastating to watch everyone's lives kind of go on while mine kind of felt like it was stuck." In the past 10 years, things have dramati- cally turned around for the 27-year-old San Jose woman. The week of June 7, Tamboura will join her peers in graduating from UC Santa Cruz. She will carry with her a bachelor's degree and a 4.0 GPA, having double majored in legal studies and philosophy at the university that has come to feel like a home. In her four years at UCSC, she has won some 20 different awards, started her own fiscally-sponsored nonprofit, coauthored an anthology, spent numerous hours as a featured public speaker, continued raising her son and was successful in being accepted at 20 out of 21 law schools to which she applied. She will attend Yale Law School in the fall after serving as commence- ment speaker for her Legal Studies Department cohort. "When I got the phone call (from Yale admissions), I was just sobbing. I was thinking back to all the times I kind of felt like my life was over – like, everyone's going to college and graduating from college," Tamboura said. "I've never graduated from anything, and here I am, graduating from UCSC and in a few years gradu- ating from the No. 1 law school in the country. The universe wanted me to have this." One class and then another... Well before Tamboura stood on the cusp of attend- ing an Ivy League university, she began working as an administrative assistant at Stanford Medical School. As a single mother with a GED, Montero decided she would take an English class at community college -- just a single class at Foothill Col- lege in Los Altos Hills, she said. In her mind, that first course was not the same as "going to college," differing from the stereotype of the full-time four-year track on track for a degree, living in the dorms and staying up late studying with friends. "It wasn't a class I took with a purpose. It was just me deciding that I was going to try just one class. I really can't tell you to this day why I took it," Tamboura said. "I was just in this job that was OK, I'm living paycheck to paycheck as a single parent, living on my own. I had my own 400-square-foot one-bedroom in San Jose. It was like $1,600 a month -- just the reality of taking care of a child on my own and working and not having a lot of help," Tamboura re- called. "I think I just had this moment where I was like, I don't really want to be do- ing what I'm doing forever, I don't want to live paycheck to paycheck forever. I don't want to do a job that I don't like forever and I know that school is one pathway to something different. So, why don't I take one class and another class and another class." Though the idea of trans- ferring from community col- lege into a school four-year bachelor's degree seemed a dream impossible and out of reach, Tamboura eventu- ally spoke with a friend and mentor who encouraged her to look into the process of transferring and just take the process one step at a time, starting with taking the SATs and filling out some college applications. "I honestly wasn't really expecting to get in any- where, and then I got in to UC Santa Cruz," Tamboura said. "I still remember the day: It was a dream come true. I opened the email and I just started sobbing, going, 'I can't believe I'm actu- ally going to go to college. This is everything I've ever wanted.'" Growing together Enrolled as a new full- time student three years ago, Tamboura and son Christopher moved into family housing on the UCSC campus and became inte- grated into the community. While not having to work, she was able to turn some of her attention to public and community service op- portunities and would soon launch Walls to Bridges, a restorative justice program connecting children of incar- cerated adults with their par- ents -- an effort born from her reunification with her own father, who is no longer incarcerated, and a desire to make a difference in others' lives. Tamboura has handed over the leadership reins for Walls to Bridges to fellow UCSC students, who will continue the program once she graduates. For more information, visit wallsto- bridgesproject.org. Son Christopher has been on as much of a journey as his mom these past several years, Tamboura said. Some- times sitting quietly reading a book while attending some of her classes, other times partaking in campus African American Resource and Cultural Center events, Christopher has internalized the idea that he too, one day, will be going to col- lege as a natural future, his mother said. "I do think that as I grow, he's been growing with me," Tamboura said. "As I've entered into these academic spaces, I've tried my best to make sure that the pathway for him to get to college is not going to be as hard as it was for me. A favorite memory for Tamboura came her first year at UCSC when she was feeling anxiety about the impact of putting her son to bed at night so she could devote the later hours to studying for class. Then, her son brought home a homework assignment -- a drawing of himself down- stairs in bed, dreaming with a smile on his face, Tam- boura upstairs with an open laptop, a matching smile on her face. "I try to communicate this to Christopher and I hope that he will notice it too, when he's older," Tamboura said. "That I really tried my best and that everything I do is for us." UC Santa Cruz senior seizes dreams despite early challenges By Jessica A. York jyork@santacruzsentinel.com W hen reached by phone, Anisa Velasco was deep in studying for what will be her finals week at Watsonville High School. The senior, who's headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, lit up when asked about her journey from the daughter of an agricultural family, to soon-to-be animal science major. "Animals have been in my life since day one," Velasco said. "Growing up when I was 4 or 5, I would sell chicken eggs in my neigh- borhood." The 17-year-old, who's Watsonville born and raised, said her ag roots inspired her to pursue the path of becoming a veterinarian. In the 1960s Velasco's grandfather came to the Watsonville area and pur- chased land. His 13 children worked the family farm near Elkhorn Slough, including Velasco's mother. Her father, originally from Tulare in California's Central Valley, would work Santa Cruz County farms in the summer as a teen, sending money back to his family. "They've told me 'you want to get a better educa- tion so you don't end up working and breaking your back and not earning as much as you could,'" Velasco said. Velasco is the recipient of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau's Jimmy Cox Scholarship. She will use the $4,000, given to a Santa Cruz Coun- ty student pursuing a career in agriculture, to help pay for her tuition at Cal Poly. "It just shows that so much hard work has paid off," Velasco said. "I see my parents and how much they've struggled." Animal connection Growing up, Velasco's parents let her take care of the family's chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, ducks, along with a potbelly pig. "They showed me values through animals, and gave me the responsibility of car- ing for another living thing, besides myself," Velasco said. One moment stands out to her, when she realized she wanted to pursue becoming a vet. Her pig had a deep cut on his leg, and she treated it with hydrogen peroxide. "It was as if he was talking to me, or giving me thanks for helping him," Velasco said. "If I didn't take the time out of my day to do that, it could have gotten infected, he could have lost his leg, and it saved his life." Velasco got involved with Watsonville High's Future Farmers of America program her sophomore year. As part of that, she's trained animals for livestock shows at both the Santa Cruz County and Salinas Valley fairs. "I fell in love, it's not just an animal, it's an athlete, and you're the personal trainer for that athlete," Velasco said. Over the years Velasco worked with pigs, steers and is currently training a lamb. Hopes for the future Velasco said after com- pleting her degree in animal science at Cal Poly, she hopes to fulfill her dream of becoming a vet, and come back to serve the Pajaro Valley. "In Salinas, and around Watsonville, people have to bring in vets from Hollister and Los Baños to help their animals, it's really costly," Velasco said. "Watsonville does not have large animal vets, so I want to come back and help our community." The Watsonville native is proud of being a first generation college student in her immediate family. Her father, who now works at a local bank, will help her pay for living expenses at Cal Poly, she said. "Right off the bat, my dad took out his retirement to help me pay for my dorm" Velasco said, her voice wavering with emotion. "It was really heartwarming, be- cause he just got a new job, the retirement wasn't that much, so him taking it out to help me pay for the dorm... was very significant." Going to college also means something more, as a Latina, Velasco said. "In my family, there's 42 grandchildren, only four of us have gotten a college education, and we've all been girls," Velasco said. "It's kind of been our way of saying 'hey we're here, we're not just made for domestic housework, to take care of the children, we're some- thing more, we're here to advance in society, we're here to take another step." Watsonville native and high school senior reflects on journey to Cal Poly By Hannah Hagemann hhagemann@santacruzsentinel.com UC Santa Cruz graduating senior Alyssa Tamboura and son Christopher celebrate Tamboura's acceptance to Yale Law. (AlyssaTamboura -- Contributed) Velasco shows a steer in the 2020 Santa Cruz County Junior Livestock Show. Because of the pandemicthe event was held virtually.

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