Don’t ever tell Angela Ybarra that there is something she can’t do. After four brain bleeds caused by a hereditary condition and emergency surgery in 2012 that doctors didn’t think she would survive, at the age of 43, Angie had a long road to recovery. She was told she would never walk again and may never regain her sight, and with the help of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, had to relearn to speak, eat, and yes, eventually learn to walk again. She says, “I’m a mom! I have things to do and didn’t have time to be sick.”
While Angie had always thought about returning to school to get her degree, she had put it off for almost 30 years. Having a successful career in retail for 25 years, then working at her daughter’s high school as the principal’s assistant, it was easy to tell herself she didn’t need a degree. And she was raising two children on her own – as her daughter got ready to go off to college, Angie told herself her time to get an education had passed.
Fast forward to her time spent in rehab after her brain surgery, and she started thinking about going back to school again. She had overcome so much – what were a few college courses? Her physical therapist advised her to take it easy and maybe put off her return to school. After all, her doctors told her there would be many things she wouldn’t be able to do and things that would be harder for her now.
That was all the motivation she needed: “Saying ‘no’ to me is not a good idea,” says Angie. She finally felt like it was her time to finish school. She decided to take classes at Wright College because she was familiar with the campus, not having an exact direction, but knowing she wanted to get her associate degree.
She’s had a lot of support along the way from the Wright College and Wright College Humboldt Park communities. Even though she’s usually the oldest in the classroom, her classmates, the faculty, and staff feel like family, encouraging her to reach her goals.
“I took Professor Vargas’ Latin American Women’s Literature class – it was a lot of reading and writing. I got a B on my first paper and hated it. But I kept trying, and every paper I got back from him had something inspirational written on it that encouraged me to keep going.”
She also had the support of her academic advisor, Elizabeth Castillo. “Elizabeth is all in my business – in a good way! She just will not let me quit.” She even encouraged Angie to enter a Hispanic Heritage writing contest, in which she won second place.
But it hasn’t been easy. Learning is different for her now – she has short term memory loss, which makes it hard for her to memorize facts, and some things just take her a little longer to understand. The final hurdle to an associate degree is a biology class that she hasn’t managed to pass yet. “I do not handle failure well, so I have enrolled in that biology class for the upcoming fall semester and I will pass that class.”
Once she conquers biology, Angie hopes to transfer to Northeastern Illinois El Centro, where she will study grant writing. “I never realized how much I enjoyed helping kids find money for school and helping the school stay funded. Now want to be a grant writer. I’m so excited to have found my passion and that I will be able to do it as a career!”
We can’t wait to see what Angie will do next.