June 2, 2004
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or mstepanovich@csub.edu

She hitched rides and slept in bus stations while pursuing her education. She battled cancer, but that didn’t stop her. Armida Bermudez always clung to her dream of earning a college degree. And on Friday, June 11, the 61-year-old Arvin native will finally reach her goal when she receives her bachelor’s degree in child, adolescent and family studies from California State University, Bakersfield.

A more determined person than Bermudez would be hard to find. “I didn’t go to school when I was young because I was busy as a migrant farm worker,” she said. “But later in life, I realized that I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I went back to school and did something.”

But before she could attend college, she had to earn her high school diploma, so in the 1960s she enrolled in Bakersfield Adult School, which in those days was at Bakersfield High School.

“I had to go all the way back and start up the ladder,” she said. “The closest school that was offering night classes was at Bakersfield High. I started there for a year, then they began offering night classes at Arvin High.

“We didn’t have a car, and we didn’t have money to buy a car,” she said. “When I came to Bakersfield I had to take the bus. Then when classes were over, I had to walk back down F Street to the bus station and wait overnight to catch the bus back to Lamont (where she moved in 1967) in the morning. Once in awhile I’d get a ride. But I met a lot of interesting people.”

After she received her high school diploma, she enrolled at Bakersfield College. One day her advisor asked her, “‘When are you going to apply for your associate of arts degree? You’re only a class away.’ I said, ‘What?’ I didn’t realize I was that close. I just kept taking classes. My advisor said, ‘What are you still doing here? You should transfer to Cal State.’”

After receiving her associate’s degree in 1983, she took her advisor’s advice and enrolled at CSUB. “I started at CSUB – oh God, I can’t remember – it seems like forever,” she laughed. Records show she took her first class at CSUB in 1983.

But as she had always done, she just kept plugging away, a class at a time, through the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Then two years ago, she found out she had cancer. “I took chemotherapy for a year,” she said. “I would get out of chemo and come to class. I don’t know how I did it.” She’s been off chemotherapy for a year, but she still gets tired. But the news is good. “I just went for a physical, and everything seems to be OK. It’s in remission.”

Bermudez, who has lived in Bakersfield since 1989, said her degree will help with her job: she is an area manager for the Economic Opportunity Commission of San Luis Obispo County, Inc.’s migrant and seasonal head start program, which provides full day child care programs for children from 0 to 5 years old in Fresno, Kern, Monterey, Orange, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “I oversee two sites in Delano and one in Wasco,” she said.

Cary Larson-McKay, a professor of child, adolescent and family studies in CSUB’s School of Education, said Bermudez is an inspiration. “Armida is so darned persistent!” she said. “She has a goal and she has stuck with that goal through all kinds of tests of her will. I am so impressed that a student has valued education so highly and then made it her reality. At times it was slow-going for her – she would take one class a quarter and it would seem like it would take forever. But she could see the goal in her own mind and she just kept moving toward it. We should all take a page from her book and keep our goals in front of us and have such dedication – the children we work with deserve our best. Armida seemed to understand that and live her life by that vision.”

After years of following her dream, Bermudez isn’t sure whether she’ll pursue a master’s degree, but won’t rule it out. “When I started back to high school, it was just to get my diploma,” she said. “Then I started at BC, and it was a little bit more; then it was at CSUB, and it was just a little bit more to graduate. So I may go to graduate school, we’ll see. Every class I took opened another door for me.”

And it’s clear how important education is to her. She encouraged everybody to pursue their education. “If they’re young, they should continue going to school, because school opens doors for them and lets them continue their dreams. If they’re old, it’s never too late. It opens doors, period. You get a lot of knowledge useful for yourself.”