Guillermina Guillen at graduation. Photo by Rosie Zepeda.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Juliana Luna

The thought of returning to school after 14 years was unexpected for Guillermina Guillen. When she was 12, her father passed away and she started working in the fields to support her family. 

“The option of continuing an education was impossible,” said Guillen.

In 2008, recently arriving from Mexico to Hollister with her husband, Guillen had difficulty communicating. At that time she had no family in town, and the sense of not belonging surfaced frequently. 

“Every time I went to the store I couldn’t communicate with others,” she said. It had taken her hours to search for a particular item without help. Conferences with her child’s teacher were always complicated to arrange. Either Guillen had no time or the translator was absent.

She then decided to join the Continuing Education Program at Gavilan College, entering the English as a Second Language session. She said, “The main reason was I couldn’t communicate with my children’s teachers, couldn’t help them with their homework.” 

Six years of field work almost convinced Guillen that college wasn’t an option for her. 

But now, Guillen is graduating with her associates degree in sociology and transferring to CSU-Chico.

It took Guillen two years to learn English. 

“I could read it and understand it,” she said, “But talking was very difficult.” Speaking out loud made her nervous because she said new English learners had a particular accent that didn’t sound good. Spanish speakers have a different approach to speech structure, causing her to stumble in translating Spanish thoughts into English.

Upon entering the program, she met with various counselors. They all told her she could complete her education. 

She kept asking herself soon after, “Should I continue? And I did!”

Counselors Marcela Serrano and Simone Reyes played a big role in Guillen’s decision to stay in school. Serrano told Guillen to take credit classes, which Guillen began to do. She became a mentor, studied the citizenship process and was expecting a child.

She took care of students whose background was similar to hers. She said that parents would reach out to help their children in school and gain better job opportunities.

“Many of them believed I had a career in Mexico,” Guillen said, laughing heartily. 

Guillen said she hopes students see a reflection of themselves when they look at her. She said she believes they will succeed.

When Gavilan asked Guillen to speak at the college’s May 27 commencement ceremony, “I was like there was no way I could do it,” she said. The thought of addressing an audience of 2,000 made her feel overwhelmed. However, she decided to accept the invitation. She said she felt that by being on stage she could inspire those parents in the crowd who doubt they could learn English, and that speaking could motivate them to pursue an education just as she had done. 

Guillermina Guillen is “a perfect example of potential in our community, what the power of community college is,” said Gavilan’s Public Information Officer Rosie Zeppada. “There’s a lot of people who have helped her. She has to tell this story, other people have to hear it, and hearing her speech will inspire parents who say ‘it’s too late for me.’” 


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