VC grad overcomes fear of returning to school to be first in family to graduate

May 9, 2012 at 12:09 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

Melissa Salazar, the first in her family to attend college, has been accepted to Pacific Northwest College of Art in Oregon.

Melissa Salazar, the first in her family to attend college, has been accepted to Pacific Northwest College of Art in Oregon.   Todd Krainin for The Victoria Advocate

Her 20s were slipping by, and Melissa Salazar said she had yet to do anything extraordinary.

She was skating through life - always intending to go to college, but finding herself in that post-high school vacuum that makes returning to school more difficult each passing year.

Salazar came to a halted, new perspective when her 21-year-old brother died a few years ago.

"Something like that changes you," Salazar said. "It made me realize I just have to do more. I have younger siblings and younger nieces and nephews."

On Saturday, Salazar will receive her associate's degree in graphic design from Victoria College - a haven that has catapulted the 29-year-old to successes unthought-of not long ago.

Salazar said she experienced the expected fears and doubts about her ability to get back into the swing of school after nearly a decade away. But as a member of the KEY Center, which helps low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college, Salazar said she found support at VC.

"VC actually is really encouraging," she said. "There are a lot of resources here that as long as you ask the questions and look for it, it's there."

Salazar wasted no time asking those questions and getting 100 percent involved in not only her art classes, but other parts of the college, like tutoring and the marketing department. Plus, she met her goal of graduating as a member of the national honors society, Phi Theta Kappa.

"If I was going to come back to school, I was going to do it right," she said.

Though she's experienced hardship since her brother's death, Salazar said she fears the future less because she knows she's on the right track.

Not long after she'll get her first higher education diploma in her hometown, she'll pack up in search of the next diploma.

With the encouragement of her VC art teacher, Nathan Heuer, Salazar applied to art schools scattered about the country. She was accepted to her top choice: Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Ore.

After getting her bachelor's degree, Salazar said she hopes to work as a graphic designer for a sports team. But for now, she's happy being a positive example for the younger members of her family.

"I hope they see more," Salazar said. "When they do get (older), I don't want them to be scared . if they see something they want, I want them to have the courage to go and do it."



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