A news crew from CBS News in Los Angeles visited the Brandman University Southern California commencement ceremony because of a graduate from the Santa Maria campus. She went from rock bottom to college graduate, and shared her deeply personal story as the student speaker, with the compassionate judge who changed her life by her side. Monica Careyette overcame addiction to thrive and turn her life around. On Sunday she graduated with a bachelor’s degree. You can watch Monica’s speech below:
Like many of the graduates here today, it’s been a long road to this moment. Against all odds, I have succeeded. I have overcome many obstacles to turn my life around and stand on this stage before you today.
10 years ago my life was complete chaos. I was living on the streets and addicted to methamphetamines. I honestly did not care if I lived or died. I had burned every bridge; even my own sister who saw me walking the street one day, drove past me as if I did not exist. My life at that point did not matter. All that mattered was getting my next high.
My addiction led me to become a criminal. Toward the end of my addiction, at my rock bottom, I would have done anything to get my next fix. That need led me to commit four felonies all at the same time. That day in April 2007, time stood still. I remember sitting in the back of the police car in handcuffs, crying, but not knowing why.
If you had asked me then what my life would be like 10 years later, I would have told you I’d be in prison, or worse. Never would I have imagined this amazing day, standing on this stage receiving a Bachelor’s degree, my family, including my sister, sitting in the audience. And, my beautiful daughter, who when I look at her makes all my sacrifices and hard work worth it. I know that this is to better her life.
The last day I used meth was that day I got arrested. When I receive my degree I will have 9 years clean from a drug that almost killed me.
My journey has not been an easy one. I thank God every day that I had a compassionate judge, Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores. Instead of prison time, he sentenced me to an 18-month rehabilitation program. It would have been easier to go to prison. But something deep inside of me knew that this was going to change my life, just how much I had no idea.
Judge Flores gave me the second chance I so desperately needed and I am honored that he is here today to see me graduate. Your Honor would you please stand. Join me in thanking Judge Flores!
I began my program in May 2007. Six months later I found out I was pregnant. God gave me a miracle. I knew that I had to not only stay clean, but I needed to build a better life. When she was 6 months old, in January of 2009, I started at Allan Hancock College. I just wanted a certificate in addiction studies so I could work to help other addicts. But once I started that certificate, I knew that I needed more and I set my sights on an Associate’s degree.
It was my second year at Hancock when I met Brandman Advisor Donna Hiltner. She was hosting a table representing Brandman in our student center. I was still a year away from obtaining my Associates degree. She told me to come back and see her when I had all my units. Well, I stopped and talked to her each week she was there. I think I drove her crazy, but I just knew I would be attending Brandman University.
I was 36 when I received my AS in Human Services from Hancock. My daughter was almost 5. Brandman was perfect for me. I was a single mom, working full time and going to school. I did not need the traditional college student experience, I needed an education.
The Santa Maria campus and their One Stop student services center are amazing. All the instructors know me by name. I can ask for anything, even pens and paper. My advisor has become my friend. She encouraged me like she had known me all my life. She made my journey so much easier. If I cried, she cried with me. My success was her success.
My first class at Brandman was very intimidating. I was the student in the back with a pen and paper, while everyone else had laptops. Even though I was intimated, I stuck with it, working an 8-hour day and going to class once a week for 3 hours with usually only coffee and a granola bar for dinner. Three years later, after many long nights and weekends, I stand here before you, knowing that my hard work and sacrifice has paid off.
I am so honored to have this opportunity to share my story. I am living proof that no matter how hard you fall, you can overcome and succeed. From drug addict to college graduate, dreams do come true.
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