Two years ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, Almira Javier and her family were joking around during breakfast when her grandfather had a heart attack at the table.
His sudden passing was a devastating blow to Javier and her family, whose move to Valencia in 2014 was made possible thanks to his family-based immigration petition.
“He was my inspiration,” said the 19-year-old who was born and raised outside of Manila in the Philippines.
During the brief time Javier lived with her grandfather, the two became very close.
“He was diabetic and weak,” said Javier, who administered his insulin shots because her mother was afraid of needles. “He would say, ‘Oh my gosh, you have very soft hands. You are a natural!’”
Javier, who had always been interested in healthcare, took every chance to ask questions to the nurses who cared for her grandfather.
Losing her grandfather was especially challenging for Javier, who was also struggling with adapting to her new life in America.
“Making friends was hard,” said Javier. She was 14 when she started attending Hart High School.
“I thought being a new kid in an American school would be just like in ‘Mean Girls’ and it was.”
Although she had studied English in the Philippines, Javier hardly had the chance to practice and spoke with an accent.
“I was bullied,” she said. “I realized people were using me to do homework and errands. It was a bummer.”
Javier also had to learn how to navigate the American education system by herself.
“My parents didn’t know the system,” said Javier, who is the oldest of two. “I couldn’t ask anyone. All of that helped me become independent.”
Fortunately, Javier started making friends and things started clicking into place. Javier started thinking about going to college.
“I felt a lot of pressure as the first person in my family to go to college in America,” said Javier.
The main reason Javier’s parents decided to leave the Philippines was so that she and her younger sister would have more opportunities.
“My parents saw potential in us and wanted a better future for us,” said Javier. “I love my country, but there isn’t much progress.”
It was a Hart counselor who introduced her to the First-Year Promise (FYP) program at College of the Canyons that waives tuition and fees for new full-time college students during their first year of study.
After taking the college’s assessment test and FYP summer counseling class, Javier enrolled in six classes for her first semester in fall 2018.
“During my first week, I was freaking out and overwhelmed,” recalled Javier, who sought the help and guidance of her FYP counselor, Tony Law.
“I went to him every week,” said Javier. “He was so patient with me and gave me reassurance and told me about great on-campus resources like The Learning Center.”
Javier also credits COC English professor Alexandra Dimakos with helping her transition to college life as a first-generation American.
“She taught me that it’s ok to ask questions and make mistakes,” said Javier, who was enrolled in Dimakos’s First-Year Experience 100 class. “She recommended I watch TV shows with closed captioning so I can improve my English and listen to podcasts.”
Javier took her advice and began progressing in her English coursework.
“Almira stood out to me because she was the only student in class who took the initiative to speak to me frequently after class and ask me for guidance on a variety of topics like how she can improve her English skills, study strategies for earning a high grade in her biology class, creating course schedules for future semesters, and getting more involved on campus,” said Dimakos. “It was clear she was genuinely invested in her education and her own success and she was willing to go above and beyond to reach her goals. The maturity, insight, and dedication Almira demonstrated impressed me a great deal and I wish I had more students like her!”
While attending COC, Javier worked the evening shift at Marshalls and volunteered more than 200 hours at the Definitive Observation Unit at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
When asked how she managed to juggle it all, Javier laughs.
“I don’t know, but I had lots of support from my parents,” said Javier, who graduated on Friday, May 31 with an associate degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in social and behavioral sciences.
This summer, Javier will be applying for a coveted spot in the college’s competitive nursing program. She has already received a $500 LaVerne Harris Memorial scholarship, which she hopes to apply to her nursing studies.
Her goal is to become a registered nurse in gerontology, a decision inspired by her grandfather.
“Everything I do,” said Javier, “I do it for him.”