Grad Stories (2014)
Stalin Soto hates the idea of leaving Norco College and his “academic family.”
“It was in 1995 when I would (first) meet Norco College,” Soto said. “There were three buildings at the time; it was a windy day, a tumbleweed rolled by as I stood at the top of the steps at the front of the campus. I looked beyond the empty field which now houses the Center for Student Success and thought ‘One day this place will be amazing and we will both do great things. I will be back.’”
Soto was just 14 years of age when he arrived in the United States, halfway through his sophomore year in high school. Faced with learning a new language after arriving from Ecuador, Soto struggled constantly with his English. He says his first day at Norco High set the tone.
“I was supposed to ride the school bus. I was directed to stand and wait for it on one side of a street several blocks away from my uncle’s house. I remember watching a group of kids at the opposite corner getting on a bus that arrived. As the bus pulled away, I remember watching them look at me in wonder and even laughing, I imagine because they realized that I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Soto walked back to the house but had no idea how to say he had missed the bus. “So in my meager translation from Spanish to English I came up with the most sensible one: ‘I lost the bus.’ In Spanish that sounds just fine, but meaning for meaning it has no congruence. My American aunt, whom didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, finally put it together.
“And so the year would unfold with me begging my mother, whom I didn’t have much of a relationship with since I had been raised by my paternal grandmother, to send me back to Ecuador where all my dreams of becoming an architect were deeply founded. Obviously that didn’t work, so I kept pushing on.”
It was a chance meeting in the fall of 2012 that eventually put Soto back in the classroom.
“My son was at Norco College taking the assessment test,” Soto said. “I was sitting outside when Maria Maness (academic evaluations specialist), whom I have known for many years, came to talk to me. She told me there was a cancellation and that I should take the open (assessment test) spot. I was not ready, but she had faith that I would do well, so I took her up on it. I qualified for English 1A and Math 52, which I was really excited about. I remember thinking now I had a starting point, and decided I can do this.”
He and the rest of the Norco College’s Class of 2014 will be celebrated on June 12 at the College’s annual commencement ceremony. Soto will be transferring to UC Riverside where he’ll study sociology after compiling a 3.84 grade point average.
To get through Norco College, Soto, who is 41 and the father to 23-year-old Porscha and 20-year-old Christopher, worked countless jobs. He’s worked in tutorial services at Norco College and makes custom furniture.
“To watch younger students miss out on the education opportunity they have to further increase their potential in life by getting a better education is tough,” Soto said. “Whether through laziness of their own or because of life’s challenges, it is painful to see them dropout instead of pressing forward. Time flies by with rocket engines, and there are no guarantees that later in life one will be able to catch up to the world that we live in, or with the dreams of yore.”
“My kids are now adults and they deserve to have a well-educated father. This is my most important reason to achieve this goal. However, once I acquire a Ph.D. in sociology I would like to return to teach at Norco College; prayerfully they’ll want me back.”
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