If you attended UW-Waukesha’s Commencement ceremony in May, you may recall a student who did a little dance on stage as she received her diploma. Mother of three and grandmother of eight, 55-year old Darlene Perez definitely earned the rights to that dance as well as her Associate degree! Darlene’s path to a college degree was definitely not an easy one. We share her story because her determination and perseverance are nothing short of inspirational.
A glimpse of Darlene’s early years provides a better understanding of the many hurdles to that victory dance on stage. Her trials began early in life when at age five, her mother died. A few years later, her father became sick with cancer. Eventually, they moved in with a family friend, however, that situation soon became unbearable for Darlene. After attending high school for just two weeks, she ran away.
Fast forward through more tough times as well as a marriage, three children, a stint in the National Guard and a subsequent divorce - to 1994 when she was finally able to complete high school, earning her GED at Waukesha County Technical College. Through the years, she found employment in the construction industry. With her strong work ethic, this worked out for her financially. That is until the recession hit and she suddenly became unemployed. When the unemployment benefits ran out and she could not find a new job, Darlene took the leap to college life.
Choosing UW-Waukesha: When the recession happened, I was hit hard - so I decided to go to school. While I learned things in construction, I was eager to learn more and also wanted a different way of learning. The first semester was the most difficult as I felt out of place, due to my age. I was the oldest in class! Soon, however, the acceptance by younger students (“hey – we like having you in class”) as well as the teachers and staff - changed my attitude. I’m really glad I made the decision to attend UW-Waukesha. I met some really wonderful people - both staff and students.
Who is your favorite professor or staff member?I have several favorites. Seth Rankin who taught Geology/Geography courses was one of my favorites – mainly because I had a different learning style. He taught more ‘old school’ and we had that connection. My favorite staff member was Judy Becker (Enrollment Services.) who is the type of person who would give you the shirt off her back. I have a whole new wardrobe because of that woman and couldn’t have done this without her! Other mentions include Linda Jo Stamper (Veterans benefits), Quintin Bendixen (Geography-Geology), Scott Budzien ( Developmental Skills Specialist) and Ann Mitchell (Communications-Theatre Arts).
Going forward: In addition to currently working two jobs – one full-time at UW-Waukesha in custodial services and one part-time at Cross-Cut Woodcraft in Ixonia, Darlene also manages to work a few extra cleaning jobs on the weekend. Determined and persistent, she is also “contemplating a bachelor degree” with her ultimate goal to have a career related to “anything environmental or geoscience."
Advice for incoming UW-Waukesha students: Like Joe Dirt says, “Keep on keeping on.” Do not give up! Do it while you’re young. It definitely gets harder when you get older. Always look for positives out of negatives, because while two negatives make a positive - two positives are still a positive! Cherish those positives; change the negatives - now you are doing math in life’s lessons. Most of all be happy, learn, love, laugh, and cherish those experiences. (Note: Darlene had to repeat both math and English classes until she passed – but wanting to set an example for her grandchildren (ages 3-14) – she persevered. “What would they think if I quit?” she asked.
Favorite Quote: As I feel very strongly about the importance of our land and waters to all, this quote by Aldo Leopold really makes sense to me: “Harmony with the land is like harmony with a friend: you cannot cherish their right hand and chop off the left.”
We also share Darlene's poem titled "Earth At My Feet"