By: Special to The Laredo Sun
When Laredo Community College 2012 graduates Clarissa Idrogo and Oscar Lechuga graduated from high school both knew they were headed to college. Although each would face their own challenges, they made the decision to begin their higher education in Laredo.
Idrogo and Lechuga, during their time at LCC, learned that staying in Laredo and attending LCC gave them the chance to succeed and instilled in them the desire to do more with their lives.
For Idrogo, a United High School graduate, attending LCC was a way to honor her parents, both of whom attended the college and encouraged her to do her basics at home.
Lechuga took a more circuitous route to LCC. While still attending Nixon High School, he spoke with a college staff member who apprised him of all the benefits of attending a community college, but Lechuga wanted to start his education at Texas A&M International University.
A change of heart and a reality check led Lechuga back to LCC.
Because of their intelligence, drive and heart-felt educational journeys, both were selected to serve as the student speakers for LCC’s 65th annual Commencement.
Clarissa Idrogo’s story
Idrogo is a Laredo woman through and through. She attended Mary Help of Christians School and United High School, and she is actively involved in the community through her work with Youth Leadership Laredo and at her parish, San Martin de Porres.
After graduating from high school, she was unsure about staying in Laredo to attend LCC, but her high school counselor suggested she look into LCC’s D.D.
Hachar Honors Program, a suggestion that changed the course of her education.
Idrogo always had an idea about what she wanted to study. While in high school, a family member was diagnosed with neuropathy, and Idrogo found herself researching the disorder, including its effects and treatments.
While at LCC, Idrogo sought out an opportunity to participate in career shadowing at Regent Care Center and Ruth B. Cowl Rehabilitation, and as she did, she learned that there was a severe need for occupational therapists in Laredo.
She pursued her Associate of Science Degree, but all the while, Idrogo considered her options.
“I took Principles of Occupational Therapy with (instructor Jodie) Valls, and I became interested in LCC’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program,” she said.
However, through her participation in the Honors Program, Idrogo learned of a program that would not only help her live out her passion, it would lead her on the path towards a master’s degree.
With the help of Dan McInnis, an art instructor and Honors Program coordinator, Idrogo applied for the Master of Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
She is one of only six undergraduates to be accepted into the program, and she started classes shortly after graduation.
“Mr. McInnis really helped me. He made sure I had the right classes I needed to apply to the program, and his door was always open,” said Idrogo.
“In fact, all of LCC’s professors were approachable. It was never a problem to meet with them to get help.”
If there is one thing she’s taken away from her time at the college is that LCC becomes part of your family.
“I tell people who criticize the college that they would be surprised by the opportunities that arise at LCC. When people look down at staying in Laredo, I tell them to look at me for an example of just how wrong that is.
I’m now working towards getting my master’s degree. LCC did that for me,” said Idrogo.
Aside from her membership in the Honors Program, Idrogo belonged to Phi Theta Kappa and was recognized by Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges.
Upon graduating from the master’s program, Idrogo plans on returning to Laredo as a licensed occupational therapist.
Oscar Lechuga’s story
Upon graduating from Nixon High School, Lechuga knew he wanted to go to college, despite family pressure to work. He enrolled in Texas A&M International University but very quickly found himself overwhelmed by college life.
Having moved to the United States from Nuevo Laredo at the age of 11, he was keenly aware that although the cities were only separated by a bridge, the world he left and the world he entered were very different.
While at Nixon, Lechuga met with a counselor who ignited in him a desire to go to college; he would be the first in his family to do so.
But sometimes even the best of intentions are tempered by the realities of life. He quickly found himself adrift at TAMIU, ill-prepared for the rigors of academia and lacking the discipline necessary to succeed.
“No one in my family had ever gone to college, and I didn’t know what to do. I certainly didn’t have the support I needed. My family environment was complicated, and I felt that I would be better off working,” said Lechuga.
No longer able to afford tuition, Lechuga found himself focusing on work. He bounced from job to job until he began to ask himself what he wanted to do with his life.
But the birth of his son gave him the final push he needed to go back to school.
He remembered the LCC employee he spoke with while at Nixon- Veronica Hernandez, Veteran Affairs and International Student Coordinator. He made an appointment with her and found himself back on the path towards a degree.
“She was able to help me register, and I took two or three classes at a time,” said Lechuga. “I was smart, but I didn’t have any discipline,” he admitted, adding that juggling a family, school and work eventually helped him develop the discipline he needed.
Inspired by his new life in the United States, and interested in how taxation works in his adopted country, Lechuga decided to pursue an Associate of Applied Science in Applied Accounting.
He credits a lot of his success to his instructors.
“I like the way the instructors interact with students. There are no classes of 70-plus students. Your instructors are invested in you and want to help you succeed, and you want to make them feel like you’re learning,” he said.
He also credited LCC’s student resources, such as the libraries and learning centers, and access to El Metro’s bus service.
“LCC gives you every opportunity to succeed. There is no excuse,” said Lechuga.
Eventually, his family came around. Although some family members still occasionally pressure him to focus on work instead of school, Lechuga credits his wife, an LCC graduate and soon to be nurse, and his mother and grandmother for offering him the support he needed.
While he’s hoping to put his degree to practical use, Lechuga wants more.
This summer he will continue taking classes at LCC in order to pursue a bachelor’s in business administration. He hopes to one day open his own business in his adopted hometown.
In the meantime, he’s happy to serve as an example to his younger cousins.
“If I did it, anyone can. I didn’t have any idea what it meant to go to college, but now I can be there for my cousins. I can make sure they have the support,” he said.
LCC’s Commencement Ceremony was held on Saturday, May 12 in the Laredo Energy Arena. More than 650 students were conferred associate degrees and/or certificates of completion.