Margaret Debevec is a young woman with a powerful will to overcome. She is a testimony to the desire to improve life through education. After earning her transfer degree from Centralia College last June, she enrolled in WSU-Vancouver. Debevec will receive a $500 “Transforming Lives” award from the Washington state Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges.
The Transforming Lives award honors current students or graduates who have turned their lives around by pursuing higher education at a community or technical college.
“These students were told that they couldn’t make it – that they didn’t have what it takes to succeed. But against all odds, they persevered and started new lives for themselves,” Tom Malone, association president and trustee of the Seattle Community College District, said. Her story is both heartbreaking and inspirational… and a reminder that education elevates lives.
In her own words:
If you are looking for a person whose life has been dramatically changed by attending a community college, look no further.
To fully understand how drastically my life has changed, I need to start at the beginning. I was sexually and mentally abused at home, and by the age of 11, I was on the streets. Without guidance and care, I learned how to survive by any means necessary; as a result, I was often in trouble. Ultimately, I was made a ward of the state, but in all my time with counselors, cops and judges, nobody ever took the time to ask me what was going on at home. From age 11 to age 16, I was either on the streets or locked up in juvenile detention homes. During that time, I became very angry; I hated adults and I did not trust anyone. I dropped out of school after completing only the sixth grade.
By 16, I got married to become an emancipated adult. It was a disaster; my husband went to prison and left me to raise a baby alone. Dysfunction would follow me for many more years to come. I had a few more marriages, all abusive; so abusive my children ended up being taken from me. I moved constantly but never found anything to hold on to. I had no education, so the only jobs I could get were minimum wage or bartending. No employment prospects, coupled with losing my children, I turned to drugs. This only magnified my problems and for years I was in and out of jail. Interestingly, jail is where my life changed.
In 2002, I was serving time in jail when a woman came to talk to us about God. After that visit, I said my first prayer ever and my life changed forever. This woman, who I did not know, took me into her home when I was released. She showed me love, compassion and encouragement. She started me on the path of healing and I began believing in myself. In 2009, she talked me into getting my GED. I did, but it was not an easy task. School was extremely difficult for me considering I only had a sixth-grade education. While other students were refreshing their skills, I was learning things for the first time. Math was particularly difficult for me but the faculty at Centralia College was very patient and never stopped encouraging me. I also joined the TRiO program, where I got one-on-one tutoring in math, which I continue to use even now that I have graduated.
I completed my GED in 2009 and then was encouraged to go on to get my Associate of Arts degree. I did not just get my degree at Centralia College, I got a life that I can call my own. For the first time, I can stand with my head held high. Every faculty member went above and beyond for me. They encouraged me to get involved, so I became a member of Phi Theta Kappa and served as a Senator for the Associated Students of Centralia College.
I am currently attending Washington State University on the President’s Scholarship. After I receive my Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, I plan to attend law school. None of this would have been possible without the community college. I would not have been able to get into a four-year college with my limited skills and I doubt they could have provided me with the personal support and guidance I needed to stay motivated. Many times I wanted to give up and drop out, but they would not let me. They cheered me on all the way through to commencement. I know I would not have gotten that at any other college. I want to thank Centralia College for their time and support.