Joanna Guerrero was constantly beaten by her father, a crystal meth addict.
Christopher Josephat Madrigal has dressed, bathed and walked his mother, who suffers from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
Robert Christopher Quijano dropped out with a 1.0 GPA after he was placed on academic probation.
Ángel González felt he let down his mother and two younger siblings at a time he believed he should lead by example.
The four Fresno City College graduates not only overcame those challenges – and countless others – but excelled at a level that earned them the dean’s medallion from their respective academic divisions.
“We’re here to honor the best of the best,” said college president Carole Goldsmith at the May 10 awards ceremony. “They are part of Fresno City College history and its future.”
Five of the eight dean’s medallion recipients are Latino (Pedro Martínez earned the Tony Cantú President’s Medallion).
Other recipients were: Eon Johnson (Allied Health, Physical Education and Athletics Division); Salam Alloh (Applied Technology Division); and, Marisa Owens (Business Education Division).
Rodney Olsen, a 1996 dean’s medallion recipient and current FCC instructor, told the recipients that education is empowering.
“Stop and look back at what you have done, and marvel at your accomplishments,” said Olsen. “Each of you has navigated a complex and unique set of problems.”
Guerrero: ‘Life has changed me in many ways’
One of 11 children, Guerrero credits her mother – who had heart surgery when Joanna was in the seventh grade – for where she is now.
After her mother’s surgery, Guerrero, as the oldest child, gave up sports and friends to focus on school because that is what her mother wanted.
“The only reason I was able to come so far is because of my mother,” said Guerrero, “and my will to work hard.”
But first, Guerrero had to survive the beatings from her dad, whom she described as a “drunk, sick, nasty, wicked, and perverted drug addict.”
“He was always on crystal meth and abusing us,” said Guerrero, who added he would go on a rampage whenever her mother didn’t give him enough money for his drugs.
“He chased us around the house with a hammer. He’d break brooms, tree branches on me. He would hit me with cable cords, belts and pipes.”
Guerrero said the beatings continued until “I bled or he was tired of swinging his hands.”
She found refuge in school, “the only place we were safe.”
“My father died to me the moment I could think for myself,” said Guerrero, who maintained at least a 3.0 GPA her three years at Fresno City College. She earned her degree in studio arts, and will major in art at Fresno State.
“School was my safe place,” she said.
Her goal is to earn a doctorate in arts.
Guerrero was given the dean’s medallion from the Division of Fine, Performing and Communications Art from division dean Neil Vanderpool.
Guerrero has worked at the Poverello House and Arte Américas.
When she entered Fresno City College, she used her first financial aid check to pay household bills that were overdue and help her mother buy food.
“I knew achieving in school would eventually get me out,” said Guerrero.
Madrigal: ‘I deserve this award’
When Math, Science and Engineering Division dean Shirley McManus received Madrigal’s application for the dean’s medallion, she was startled.
“I deserve this award,” he wrote.
McManus is not someone who automatically forwards a candidate for the honor if she doesn’t feel the student is not worthy in an effort to make sure the winner “represents what the medallion means.”
After reading about his struggles and achievements, McManus “had to agree” that Madrigal deserved the award.
Madrigal and his sister were raised by a single mother who struggled economically. Sometimes, they slept in closets or tiny rooms. He could not visit school friends because his mother was too embarrassed to interact with more affluent families at his GATE school.
He discovered that education would be a means out of poverty.
“I vowed to myself to be financially independent, the break the cycle of poverty that haunts thousands of citizens,” said Madrigal, who relies on buses for transportation.
He has a 3.84 GPA and earned a degree in math and physics. He will attend UC San Diego and major in computer engineering.
In the fall 2016 semester, he completed 19 units with a 3.6 GPA.
The following semester, he completed 24 units with a 3.9 GPA. Madrigal’s courses that semester included calculus 3, physics for science and engineering, differential equations, and, film genres.
Madrigal has left such an impression on, that instructors asked to attend the dean’s medallion reception, said McManus.
Quijano: He is dedicating his college education to his late father
Quijano dropped out of Fresno City College his first semester after not getting financial aid to pay for textbooks. That was also when a close cousin died from a rare cancer at age 34.
His second semester, he failed a class and suffered from poor grades. On top of that, his father had a toe, then a foot and then a leg amputated because of diabetes. His father eventually had 15 surgeries on this right leg, and 20 surgeries on his left leg.
Quijano admitted he used college as an excuse to hang around with friends.
Thus, it was easy for him to take a semester off from school and stay home to care for his father and take a full-time job.
That’s when he decided he wanted a different life for himself.
With a new outlook, he went back to Fresno City College and made the dean’s list of honors his first semester back. From then on, he earned all A’s and B’s (with the exception of a chemistry class).
An English major, he will attend Fresno State and plans to write for movies.
Shortly after he was accepted to Fresno State, his father died at the age of 55.
González: Dreamer wants to set an example
González, who was born in Jalisco, México, never had an idea about what he wanted to do with an education. That is, until he got to Fresno City College.
Up until that point, the first-generation Dreamer didn’t fare well on his SAT exams or school work. He got to the point that he felt he let down his mother and two younger siblings.
Then, his brain began to kick in. In his second semester, Madrigal made the dean’s list with a GPA of better than 3.5.
He joined the Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS), where he became part of the Vocational Internship Program (VIP) and worked with disabled students.
The dean’s medallion from the Counseling and Guidance Division, he said, allowed him to believe that putting in hard work paid off.
“When he looks at the person he was in the past, it doesn’t compare to how much he evolved into the person he is today,” said Móncia Cuevas, dean of the Counseling and Guidance Division.
González will transfer to Fresno State where he will seek a degree in psychology.