The Road to Commencement – Three Graduate Profiles

December 11, 2014 | More People, News

Alvino Willis, Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management

As he watched the World Trade Center towers fall, Alvino Willis knew he had to change his life. Although the images of September 11 resonate and remain with many Americans, only a small group can say they transform the course of their lives by choosing to defend their counry. Willis decided to do just that by enlisting in the U.S. Navy on his 23rd birthday.

“It was a life-altering experience because once I saw what happened that day I told myself I wanted to be a part of something special,” said Willis. “And I am so glad that the Navy gave me that opportunity.”

For eight years, Willis was away from the only real family he has — his wife — serving on active duty and travelling to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. In July 2010, when he finally came home, he started to consider whether he should attend college. But, it had been nearly 13 years since he had last been in school.

Worried that he would not be able to succeed because of past experiences and challenges he faced in high school — like his slower learning pace, and difficulty with hearing and remembering information — the decision was not easy for Willis. This time was different, though, because he had a support system. Willis had his wife who helped him push those negative thoughts aside.

“Not only was I trying to learn how to adjust my life from being separated from the military, but I also had to learn to be a civilian again,” said Willis. “There were so many changes I had to overcome, and I only had one person, my wife, beside me on my journey. Sometimes family helps out, but not everyone gets the type of support they are looking for in their family.”

What he needed was a good starting point, a place to get re-adjusted with life. So he enrolled at Broward College. After growing accustomed to all of the activity that took place on North Campus, he became a vital part of Broward College’s Student Life Department. He not only participated in many community service events, such as cooking breakfast for underprivileged children and families at the Ronald McDonald House and volunteering for Light the Night Leukemia Walk, he also joined the Student Veterans of America and took on the role of a student ambassador, serving as the face of the College.

Interacting with his fellow students and providing some guidance to those who are facing tough times is what Willis has enjoyed the most during his college career and hopes to continue into the future. Willis credits his time at Broward College with helping him grow more confident as a student, and also in building and refining the leadership and mentorship skills he originally gained from the military and hopes to use in the future. “I’m not sure what’s next, but I hope that I have been able to touch the lives of the many students I have met,” said Willis. “I believe people are put here on this earth to do certain things, and right now, I will keep trying to mentor and reach all of the people who believe they cannot be reached or helped.”

Juan Villalta, Associate in Science in Aviation Maintenance Management

When Juan Villalta sees an airplane soaring through the sky it takes his breath away. Since he was a child, he wanted to build and design, leading to an interest in aerospace engineering. His dream, though, was nearly as distant and unattainable as one of those planes in the sky.

In 2009, at the age of 18, Villalta left El Salvador, the only home he had ever known, and moved to America along with his mother and sister with the hope of having a brighter future. That future didn’t come fast enough, though, and there were many dark days. As the sole support for his family, Villalta had to sacrifice his dreams of studying at Broward College in order to provide for his family. He worked two jobs — as a dishwasher for a restaurant and as a valet at a hotel — and spent every opportunity that he had learning English. When he did not understand a word or sentence, Villalta would have whoever he was talking to write it down so he could look up the meaning later. He learned the language as many do, absorbing it from as many sources as possible — watching television, listening to radio, reading books and talking to friends.

“The shock of leaving my hometown, my culture, my friends — everything — and coming to America was very difficult. I couldn’t communicate in English and that was a huge barrier,” said Villalta. “I wondered ‘what am I even doing here?’”

Villalta, though, never lost sight of his goals and true happiness in life: aviation. Eventually, he was able to enroll at Broward College to study aerospace maintenance management.

“Learning about these magnificent machines makes me feel alive in a way that nothing else can,” said Villalta. Villalta considered dropping out of college when work, school and life became overwhelming, but then his friend invited him to a Broward College Honors Institute meeting. Although he said he didn’t have the time, he ended up attending. Villalta describes that single meeting as his motivation to continue on with his education.

“Being in the Honors Institute and on the honors student committee has been one of the best choices I have made since I moved to the United States,” said Villalta.

With the special curiosity and tremendous passion that Villalta possesses, he is planning to go to Embry Riddle University, the world’s largest accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace.

“It is definitely amazing the things we can achieve when curiosity takes over our body and mind. It is like following a path that has been hidden by nature and carefully discovered by intuition,” concluded Villalta.

Simone Wyatt, Associate in Arts in General Education

SimoneWyattWith her tremendous will to fight and persevere, it’s no wonder Simone Wyatt’s cancer has been in remission for six years. A single mother of four children, she left Jamaica in 2007 and arrived in the United States to share in the wealth of the American dream. However, just two short months after arriving, she fell severely ill. First, Wyatt was diagnosed with acute renal failure. Then, the following year, she was further diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Undergoing many intense rounds of chemotherapy, as well as a bone-marrow transplant and eight major surgeries, was absolutely devastating for her children since she was their sole provider. “I survived through faith and the will to live,” said Wyatt, 48. “I am just so overjoyed for another chance.”

Not allowing her obstacles to deter her from fulfilling her dreams and aspirations, once she was well enough, Wyatt decided to attend college. In 2012, she enrolled at Broward College, and this December, she will walk across the stage at the commencement ceremony, taking a step closer to obtaining a master’s degree in social work and realizing her dream of becoming a clinical social worker.

“My career choice stems from the affection I have for people; I love to help others and I believe in giving back to the universe,” said Wyatt. “My ultimate goal is to start an organization that assists tweens and adolescents who are in or have been in some form of crisis.”

Although she lived through experiences that caused her to doubt herself, Wyatt never gave up. Instead, she remained focused, rising above her adversities, to be mindful, treat others the way she wants to be treated, extend gratitude and give love in abundance. She sees every struggle as motivation to continue pursuing her dreams.

“The most important aspect of my life is that I was given another opportunity to connect with people who are able to understand my plight without prejudice,” said Wyatt. “I love sharing my stories of adversity to let others know that the possibilities in life are endless.”

Along with giving back to the community by volunteering her service to Junior Achievement of South Florida, Wyatt is also very active on campus, serving as a member of Broward College North Campus Student Government as well as a work-study student in the Student Affairs Department. Last year, Wyatt joined the Peer Mentoring Program, which she claims has set the tone for her life, since it allows for her to do what she loves the most — change the lives of others.

“Although I have many life scars, I still do not allow my obstacles to deter me,” said Wyatt. “I know that through my skills I will be able to make changes in the lives of my mentees inside and outside of Broward College.”

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