Inside USD

Determination Drives Alumna to Ever-Greater Heights

Monday, November 23, 2009

llamas-photoOn a beautiful Sunday in May, Claudia Llamas’ dream came true.

She graduated from USD.

As it was reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the enthusiastic Llamas “hugged the presenter and so many faculty members as she crossed the Jenny Craig Pavilion stage that school officials had to halt the photo lineup at the other end so people wouldn’t get out of order.”

Llamas wanted to soak up the scene for all it was worth. And why not? Nine years before, she’d been living in Mexicali, Mexico. When she and her family moved to the United States, she spoke no English and the adjustment was long and difficult. But she persevered and went on to thrive in high school. When the time came to be the first member of her family to attend college, she took a counselor’s advice, applied to USD and was accepted.

Financially, it wasn’t easy. But her college education became a reality through a Pell Grant, a USD Presidential Scholarship, an AVID Scholarship, three college loans and three part-time student jobs. Llamas is thankful for the assistance financially as well as those who helped her realize her dream.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” she says. But judging by her ambition and determination, it’s quite likely Llamas would have found a way.

Now 23, she still doesn’t have a cell phone, a home computer or a car. She’d rather meet people in person than use a phone. She uses library computers to access her e-mail. Riding public transportation is the norm. And she’s still chasing her educational dreams.

“I felt good about graduating, but when I finished, I wanted to go back right away. I really like to study, to learn, to meet new people and to find new ways to think,” she says.

Llamas looked into graduate programs at USD and University of California, San Diego, but when she wasn’t accepted right away, she didn’t worry. She simply found another path. She has continued her love of the French language (her third language after Spanish and English) by taking classes at Grossmont College. She tutors friends and Grossmont students in math and Spanish. She’s in a master’s program in social work at San Diego State University. She still works part-time in USD’s Office of Financial Aid, but she’s also taking her final class before graduating from USD’s Paralegal program. When she completes her post-graduation program commitments, she’s mulling a doctorate in social work, leadership or law.

Her career ambition ranges from being a university president, developing a multi-service center to aid the less fortunate, or being an international social worker with an organization like the United Nations. Llamas, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, sees value beyond books and classrooms. She performs hours of volunteer community service, spending time improving the lives of young children, low-income families, the homeless and the elderly. She’s dedicated to St. John of the Cross Catholic Church in Lemon Grove where she sings in the choir for both English and Spanish masses — the latter alongside family members — on Sundays.

“I feel Claudia is a very, very special person,” Judy Lewis Logue, director of the Office of Financial Aid, says. “She has achieved so much. She’s such a hard worker. She also has an enormous heart, a giving heart, and an intellect that enables her to assist in many ways.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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