Grad Stories (2015)
As a teenager, Kevin LaMantain could pound a nail, measure a compound woodcut, and hang a door, but he never deciphered the blueprint that led to college.
An undiagnosed learning disorder prompted him to drop out of high school early. His carpentry skills landed a him a job, a decent hourly wage kept him driving screws, and any thoughts of finishing high school and going to college got swept up with the sawdust at the end of the day.
“Nothing I had ever learned dispelled the notion of how impossible and expensive going to college would be,” said LaMantain, who moved from carpentry to line construction, auto customization and countless other jobs, always jumping after two or three years. “By the time I became an adult with my own children, the idea of going to college had become an opportunity that I considered was for others more privileged than myself.”
His early years contributed to the disconnect. LaMantain grew up in a household with older parents, both exhausted from having raised a large family, his father disabled. While his parents encouraged him to go to college, they hadn’t attended themselves and had no understanding of the financial planning and preparation required.
One day, LaMantain bought a book about how to go to college. He still regrets that decision.
“It obviously wasn’t written for prospective students. One chapter talked about preparing academically by the seventh grade; another about starting a college savings account for your child. It was probably one of the most discouraging factors in me not going back to school.”
A later visit to a local community college guidance office didn’t help either. “It was as if the counselor and I spoke different languages,” LaMantain said. “It may sound too simple but one of the most difficult challenges to overcome for reentry students, adult students or anyone enrolling for the first time is figuring out how to apply and enroll, and the difference between the two.”
LaMantain finally found answers to his own questions while researching a plan for his oldest child to attend college. He discovered the Equal Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS) program at Norco College. The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of first-generation college students and those from low-income families.
“EOPS counseling directed me to other services that led me to overcome learning disabilities that had frustrated me in school as a young person and dispelled every objection I ever had about going to college,” said UC Berkeley-bound LaMantain. “I took every class seriously as if it was the last opportunity I’d ever have. I knew that at my age as a single parent the idea of redoing a class or getting a substandard grade weighed the odds against my success.”
His hard work and determination carried him through preparatory classes, requirements for the Transfer Alliance Guarantee, and positioned him as an excellent candidate for UC admission. “Even the sky doesn’t seem to be the limit anymore,” he said.
As graduation from Norco College nears, LaMantain is planning his next steps as an English major entering Cal in the fall and exploring a personal calling toward researching Autism Spectrum Disorders.
“At Norco College, I learned that an education can transform a person’s life. An education is so much more than you hope it is going to be. The challenges that I’ve faced have given me a great life, and it just keeps getting better.”
The man who replaced a hammer with a book and took a different path in life says that while his story may be unusual, there is nothing special about him. “Anyone can do this, and I hope anyone who has ever thought about it, does.”
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