Adry’s Road to Graduation

Thank you and good evening – my name is Adriana Guillen, some of you have heard my nickname Adry amongst PelotonU staff. I’m here to share with you all my journey that got me here celebrating with you today. Let’s begin!

I was born and raised in California. I graduated high school in 2009 and I imagine like some of us here may have felt after high school, I didn’t want to continue with school, but I did it anyway. I dedicated 2 years of my precious time in college, pursuing a degree I later realized wasn’t what I wanted to do. So, I dropped out. I just didn’t have a goal, no dream, just trying to live my life. Then fast forward to my 25th birthday, my now husband and I gave ourselves a wonderful gift, I was 6 months pregnant with our son Benjamin. Working a customer service job at $15 an hour, living paycheck to paycheck with a baby on the way, my husband and I looked at each other and realized… our home isn’t going to give us the life we wanted, the future we hoped to have for our growing family with this insane cost of living. So we took a HUGE leap of faith in 2016 and moved here. We uprooted from everything and everyone we knew and walked into the unknown, hoping that the universe would help us build something together.

I was fortunate enough to get a job with the City of Austin. I felt excited to have a government job and could feel the fire in me again to return to school. Unfortunately, my attempt at enrolling at ACC put that fire out quickly because of their out-of-state registration costs. I was put between a rock and a hard place: using up our savings to register and wreck future plans for our family or just keep working and saving and let the fire die because I didn’t know when I’d see the chance again to go back to school. Of course, I chose the latter. It was a huge let down.

But let me tell you, the universe works in mysterious ways. I got an email at work about a city-sponsored non-profit organization that offered affordable and flexible college. Don’t get me wrong. I had my doubts. Affordable?! Flexible?! PelotonU?! But there was a reason that email landed on my lap, and I felt like I needed to find out why. I enrolled and found a way to juggle school, work, AND family life; I graduated with my associate degree just like we got our son… in 9 months.

My fire for school grew tenfold. I rolled up my sleeves and used that momentum to start my bachelor’s degree. Halfway through my degree, I chose to take a pause to prioritize self-care, and right when I found the capacity to continue, the pandemic happened. Like the rest of us in this room, I had to push through the uncertainty and chaos, and doing so I finally got to graduate.

The day I got my degree in hand, I was sitting in my car waiting to pick up my son from school, overcome with bittersweetness. Not only that I couldn’t walk on stage on graduation day, but my family had lost someone to the pandemic; I lost my uncle, my father his brother, and my cousins their father. I was angry at the universe. It allowed the pandemic to take precious moments and important people away from us, from me that I wouldn’t get back. But having that second degree in hand, I chose to turn things around.

So, I started my research in graduate programs with the help of now director, Cynthia Suarez. Frustrated on finding the right university and getting that affordability, I was on the verge of giving up again. But of course the Universe was getting ready to show me what it had in store for me. A few weeks later, I got an email from Southern New Hampshire University, or SNHU, about their master’s program in business analytics, something that I grew to have a passion for. After going through their application process, I got the news I got in! And then bam! I got a job offer, a promotion, with another city department, all thanks to pushing through the chaos to get that bachelor’s degree. My confidence soared. I said, “thank you, Universe!” Until week 2 of my master’s program. 

After going through their application process, I got the news I got in! And then bam! I got a job offer, a promotion, with another city department, all thanks to pushing through the chaos to get that bachelor’s degree. My confidence soared.

I was overwhelmed. Excel this, excel that. SQL, python, programming language, what? I was in for it, and I wanted out. Thursday night of week 2, I told my husband that I wanted to drop out, that I wanted to quit, that I’m just going to settle with having my associate and bachelor’s degree under my belt, nothing more. He said, “you’re in it, finish it; do what you can to make it work; I know you and you are not one to give up.” So, I didn’t. I pushed through until last November. I was able to finally make my dream come true. I got to walk across that stage in New Hampshire with my head held high, master’s degree in hand, and pregnant with my daughter as tears of joy and relief rolled down my cheeks while my husband, son, and sister cheered for me in the crowd. It was perfect.

After coming back from our first family trip to the east coast, I asked Benjamin what his favorite part of the trip was. And to my surprise, he didn’t say watching the penguins swim at the Boston Aquarium or when Dad got us lost and made us hangry. He replied, “watch you graduate, Mom”. My son watched me be a nobody to a somebody, but in that moment, he reminded me that I was and am always a special somebody to him. In my eyes, I put myself on this journey to become somebody, but this whole time…I thought I had to get these degrees to have value, but he reminded me that, to him, I was always somebody. 

I’m reminded of the great philosopher Master Oogway, for our Kung Fu Panda fans out there, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present”, which brings me here today.

Our journey is always heartfelt. And what I want to give you from my journey is what I’ve learned: that it’s important to take this present moment for what it is: a gift. Take a moment tonight and look back to where you were a year ago, two years ago, however long it took you to get here. Appreciate the person you were, who made the choices for you to be the person you are today. The person you become next year will be thankful that you took this choice towards a brighter future, full of adventure and excitement.

Congratulations Class of 2023, it is truly an honor to be in this moment with you and I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be.\

  • Adry